So you’re going to Vegas. You thought you might bring a book that would nicely dovetail the trip you are taking. Preferably, though not strictly, in fiction form.
You thought wrong.
Your options universally involve people being drugged, distraught, deflated or disemboweled by this city, whose denizens are painted either as pernicious or avaricious or pitiable or just plain apathetic. There is no room, it seems, for beauty, at least in the minds of writers looking at a city of neon.
Which, honestly, makes no sense. What city doesn’t thrive on neon and questionable morals? From an environmental angle, certainly (guess how far I got into re-reading Desert Solitaire before deciding that probably wouldn’t be the most brilliant choice for a Sin City trip?), Vegas may have something of a monopoly on sinister foundations. But that’s about it. This obsession with populating the fictionalized city with the wretched and worn; the abused and manipulated and their abusers and manipulators…it’s really, well, dark. Considered and then abandoned were:
1.) Beautiful Children, by Charles Bock. Great, another crushing tale of a child lost and three lives plus a marriage destroyed because of it? No. There was a whole year where that seemed to be the topic of every book I picked up and now, right after giving birth to a future school shooter, the complete destruction associated with the loss of a child is the next greatest thing that scares me about the idea of having kids.
2.) Battleborn, by Claire Vaye Watkins. Minus points already because short stories are too intense for the frequent light-hearted interruptions inherent in a vacation, but when the only story mentioning the city in the description is about “a woman’s role in a friend’s degrading Vegas encounter,” well, that’s also a no.
3.) We Are Called To Rise, by Laura McBride. A book by “a very setting-oriented person” sounded great until we got to the part about the characters rescuing themselves after an unspeakable incident. Unspeakable, really? I doubt that. But whatever it is it’s probably not going to make me feel anything but crap, so I’m going to have to negate that too.
4.) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. No. Because The Rum Diaries was meh, because I don’t want to read yet another drug trip novel, and because way too many jerkoff white dudes in college entertained, at great length and greater volume, deluded fantasies about becoming “the next” Hunter S. Thompson. So no.
5.) Leaving Las Vegas, by John O’Brien. Oh for crying out loud, can none of you think beyond tying to the Strip the obtuse lesson that money does not bring happiness? We get it.
6.) The Desert Rose, by Larry McMurtry. Nope, no hookers with hearts of gold. I liked McMurtry’s nonfiction roadtrip book but I reaaaaally have little patience with the HWHOG trope. Not because there aren’t likely scads of hookers with hearts of gold out there, but because male writers get off on that way too easily and I will not be party to it. It’s just Girls Gone Wild for old men who’ve grown a conscience over their last few decades.
7.) Fade, Sag, Crumble. Noooooooo. Painstakingly pretentious blurb aside, if I wanted to be sad I’d stay home.
8.) Any Mystery Book Set In Vegas: Hell no. Colonel Whoever with the Whatsit in the Place. Mysteries bore me to tears.
9.) Air Guitar, by Dave Hickey. Pretentious again, but also heavy-handed and preachy, lambasting the fakery and neon and etc. etc. etc. Neope.
Seriously, where are the Colum McCann-type books about Vegas? The ones that acknowledge all the city’s shit but still find people winging their way up out of it, mentally if not (decidedly not! you have to stay to get past it!) physically? Sure, NYC is dear to his heart, but that’s my point — every city is dear to someone’s heart! Each has its own twisted-up interior, but someone loves it despite that. Why aren’t those people writing? And if they’re writing, why aren’t they writing about people whom life hasn’t battered to hopelessness already?
Update: Forget Vegas books, then. I’ll reread Dirt Music. (I’m rereading Name of the Wind but that’s a library book and I fear taking library books on vacation.) I read it too fast the first time, and I made the mistake I always do of liking one book by an author so much I launch right into another by the same person. It never works out. I get overdosed on their style and tone and the stories converge messily in my head. So I’m going to hit up Dirt Music again this time, without Cloudstreet immediately preceding it and affecting how much I take in. Besides, rare is the day I do not want to hear from Tim Winton, whether I’m trapped on a city bus or 30,000 feet in the air over the desert.