book cover

Vegas: A Memoir of a Dark Season by John Gregory Dunne (Random House, 1974)

One day John Gregory Dunne woke up to the realization that he was terribly unhappy. Married to the brilliant writer Joan Didion, they lived in Los Angeles, wrote for the movies, published books, adopted a daughter named Quintana Roo, and drank and smoked heavily. What’s new about all that? To avoid a breakdown once, John Gregory fled to Vegas, where he nursed his life back to health I suppose, though fleeing to Vegas to solve an emotional problem seems counterproductive.

I read Vegas to remember what the early 70’s were like and I was pleased and excited to find a mordant, taut, surprisingly noir novel that satisfied my every need for escape. Dunne plunders the noir genre and peoples his book (a memoir manquĂ©) with characters–a broken down private eye, dealers, gamblers, husbands-on-the-run (like Dunne), and a particularly tough and poignant black hooker. They each have a great name, emblematic of something bleak, humorous and lost.

You can read this book in a few hours and come away feeling refreshed by all the bullshit there is in the world. After a quick scotch and a cigarette, you’ll know that nothing changes because it can’t.

Who cares anyway when we’ve got Vegas?