Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-Hunter S. Thompson

I feel like I should preface this by filling you in on the positive bias that taints me as I wander into this book. I am a fan of Hunter S. Thompson. I have read articles of his, watched that documentary they made about him “Gonzo” (unless I’m very much mistaken) and having taken a whole class last semester about “The American Dream!” I find myself relishing in his attitude towards it.

I’ve seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in movie form before. I don’t remember a great deal about it, appropriately enough I may have been drunk. I knew the basic premise and enjoyed the fuck out of the soundtrack so I knew the story and what it was about, it was more the telling of it that I was interested in, y’know?

This is the blurb:
Hunter S. Thompson is driving to Las Vegas with his attorney, the Samoan, to find the dark side of the American dream. Roaring down the desert highway from Los Angeles, they realise theres only one way to go about such a perilous task: getting very, very twisted. Armed with a drug arsenal of stupendous proportions, the duo engage in a manic, surreal tour of the sleaze capital of the world. The perilous, chemically-enhanced confrontations with casino operators, police officers and assorted Middle Americans have a hallucinatory humour and nightmare terror. Riotously funny, daringly original and dead serious at its core. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a classic statement on the collapsed dream of the American sixties.

So, that’s what’s up. I love this book, and what I love is its unflinching darkness. The writing itself is perfect for the story, it’s detailed but it doesn’t dwell. Trying to comment on the writing is something I feel is way beyond me, so I’ll just skip on by it if you don’t mind. Everybody knows he was awesome at it. There are parts of this book that made me genuinely laugh out loud, usually as much in surprise as amusement. He comes out with foul and depraved stuff as casually as he orders a drink, which gives it all the more impact. Writers like Palahniuk are all well and good, but there’s something to be said for understatement. The more outrageous the better. Can an understatement be outrageous? It’s a question for the ages. My point is, it meanders along with surreal/dangerous/mindless drug fueled behaviour and then Thompson (usually says or thinks, rarely does) something genuinely foul and it’s shocking and terrible and depraved and brilliant. It’s the most consistently funny element in the book.

I also loved the dynamic of him and his attorney. The attorney’s constant “As your attorney I advise you to…” thing was really funny, and reminded me a lot of a Dr. I know who uses a similar tactic to humorously get his own way: “Look, I’m a Dr.” The way he and his attorney constantly fuck with people by making the most absurd claims in a tone of complete seriousness is also fabulous. It’s never quite established whether or not they even believe what they’re saying, so far have their minds been ravaged by the impressive amount of chemicals they’ve devoured.

Occasionally there’s an incident such as with Lucy or the waitress in the diner that is sort of eye-popping and awful in a way that really isn’t funny so much as it is sad and absurd, which is good balance I think. It kind of makes the force of how reckless they’re being hit home, and makes the sheer audacity of the thing so much more jaw dropping. They really are very, very twisted.

Here is what some of the cover reviews say:

There are only two adjectives writers care about….’Brilliant’ and ‘outrageous’. Hunter Thompson has a freehold on both of them Fear and Loathing is a scorching epochal sensation.” Tom Wolfe

So, Tom Wolfe is a fan, and I’m with him on all points. The whole journey has the sensation of complete confusion and being completely lost, while at the same time being incredibly insightful.

That’s the only cover review, but it sums up pretty much everything that needs to be said.

There is NOTHING bad about this book. The quote at the outset is pretty telling of the overall theme and encapsulates the behaviour in the book beautifully.

“He who makes a beast of
himself gets rid of the pain of
being a man.”
-Dr. Johnson
I give this 5 Mell Heads: