Book Review: Seven Snapshots Of A Fascinating City

Las Vegas may be in a desert city, but it is no longer in a literary desert That’s in part because of the Vegas Valley Book Festival, a “celebration of the written, spoken & illustrated word.”

'Perpetual Engine of Hope' -- The 2010 Las Vegas Writes Book

This year’s event was kicked off by a keynote from TC Boyle and ended with another keynote from Dennis Lehane. In between there were all sorts of terrific events for Las Vegas book lovers. Not the least of these was the Las Vegas Writes 2010 book. In 2009, the debut book was a novel serially written by several local authors. In the tradition of Naked Came The Stranger, the 1969 New York Times bestseller credited to one “Penelope Ashe” but, in truth, written by 24 journalists.

This year, seven writers were assembled, each to write a story inspired by an iconic Las Vegas photo. At the beginning of the book is an apropos quote from — of all people — Rod Stewart: “Every picture tells a story, don’t it.” (Perhaps someone should see that he gets a copy while he’s here at the Colosseum?)

The collection is called The Perpetual Engine of Hope, the title taken from On Paradise, by Juan Martinez, the first story in the book. Describing Las Vegas in his story, he cites a, “perpetual engine of hope — this whole place just runs on hope.”

Martinez is joined by authors Dayvid Figler, Oksana Marafioti, Alissa Nutting, Megan Edwards, P Moss and K.W. Jeter. Each of them has produced a short story that is intriguing. Knowing that literary taste is very subjective, I liked best those stories — Megan Edwards’ Fallout and P Moss’ Dead Ringer that are firmly rooted in the history of this fascinating city.

Edwards’ story — based on the iconic photo of Miss Atomic Bomb — talks about just that, about the effect that fallout from atomic testing had on residents at the time. It’s a story that memorializes a time in Las Vegas and, in fact, all of the nation, that must be remembered lest it be repeated.

Moss’ story was inspired by an early 1940s photo of a roulette game in the Apache Casino downtown. It involves the likes of Moe Dalitz and Howard Hughes, along with assorted showgirls, hangers-on, opportunists and wannabes. It is a glimpse into a Las Vegas long gone but deeply mourned by many.

Dayvid Figler tells us the story of showgirl Bernadette Bardot, leading off with her obituary. In Oksana Marafioti’s No Time For Betting,, set in 1956, the devil does battle for souls. Alissa Nutting writes a kind of dark, creepy mother-daughter-brother story. K.W. Jeter contributes his significant talent to ask Will The Last One To Leave Please Turn Out the Lights? that depicts a future Las Vegas devoid of ….well, just devoid.

As noted above, personal taste of course influences which stories become favorites of any reader but, here, the point is clear. Las Vegas is a city that can boast considerable writing talent. In assembling writers and stories, editor Geoff Schumacher has chosen well.

The Perpetual Engine of Hope is published by City Life Books and is available in local bookstores and online. In addition, the authors may be found at various times in various sites (Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf outlets among them) around the city doing readings and answering questions.

Schumacher said next year it looks as if the book will be a collection of non-fiction. I cannot wait to read it.