This “brutal and unflinching” novel of fleeting love in Sin City inspired the film starring Nicholas Cage and Elizabeth Shue (Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City).
John O’Brien’s debut novel, Leaving Las Vegas, is an emotionally wrenching story of a woman who embraces life and a man who rejects it; a powerful tale of hard luck, hard drinking, and a relationship of tenderness and destruction.
An avowed alcoholic, Ben drinks away his family, friends, and, finally, his job. With deliberate resolve, he burns the remnants of his life and heads for Las Vegas to end it all in the last great binge of his hopeless life. On the Strip, he picks up Sera, a prostitute, in what might have become another excess in his self-destructive jag. Instead, their chance meeting becomes a respite on the road to oblivion as they form a bond that is as mysterious as it is immutable.
O'Brien's first novel, which uses a present-tense format for immediacy and heavy-handed irony to call attention to its characters' delusions and false optimism, explores a merciless world ruled by sex and booze. Sera, a surprisingly well-paid hooker from L.A., finds making a living in the squalid streets and casinos of Las Vegas fairly simple, provided that injuries from abusive tricks do not leave permanent scars; trouble starts when Al, her former pimp, tracks her down to reassert his authority. Her initial fear of Al's notorious cruelty turns to pity, however, and she frees herself of the self-destructive love she once felt for him to begin a gentler yet equally destructive relationship with Ben, a Southern Californian who has decided that Las Vegas's perpetually open bars are the perfect place to drink himself to death. Sera cares for Ben, and her compassion elicits the reader's sympathy and hope despite Sera's dead-end occupation and Ben's steadily worsening condition. Fast-paced and violent, this saga is derivative of such chroniclers of dereliction as Charles Bukowski and Larry Brown.
I absolutely love this book. It remains one of my top 5 favorite movies, so I was hopeful the book would live up to the adapted screenplay. It definitely did. What an amazing depiction of two people, lost in their own ways, coming together to show one last glimpse of humanity to the other. This is also the best illustration of actual alcoholism I have seen laid out in popular culture. I highly recommend this novel to anyone hoping for an engaging story, and the pain and anguish that goes along with it. 5 stars.