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Reto Reading: Leaving Las Vegas by John O'Brien


Ben is an alcoholic.

Sera is a prostitute.

They fall in love.

Yet both are lonely.

This pretty much sums up Leaving Las Vegas and if you're a fan of the movie (which I thought was much better) you're not really missing too much in the novel.

As the story begins, Sera is working when she notices a drunk man fall to the pavement. She's not sure what to do, but when he gets up, she asks if he's okay and he brushes it off. This is the first interaction between the two and each goes their separate ways.

Sera goes back to work, but doesn't notice the yellow Mercedes that's been following her.

Once back on the street, she debates about whether to call it a night and then spots the Mercedes and three college guys. She agrees to meet them back at their motel and is violently raped by them.

After she gets home, she realizes that she won't be turning any tricks for a few days and once the bruising starts to go down, she heads to the casino where she plays blackjack when not working.

Through flashbacks, we learn that Sera was a prostitute in Los Angeles and worked at various venues and also had a pimp, Gamal "Al" Fathi. When she's had enough of him, that's when she decided to go to Las Vegas.

Now that Al is in town, he wants to get her back as his meal ticket once more and while Sera's doing good on her own, she knows that Al can bring her more money. She agrees to work for him once again.

Back in Los Angeles, Ben has lost his job and wife, due to his drinking.

His story begins in a dive bar at 10:00 a.m. where he's watching a game show and has already had a few drinks so that he can start functioning for the day. Ben's day consists of driving around to carefully planned out bars and liquor stores, until the early morning. Once home, he continues to drink until he passes out and then begins the process over again, sometimes starting as early as six in the morning, when a few bars open.

After cashing his severance check, he decides that he's going to go to Las Vegas, since he doesn't have to worry about "clock watching" drinking. He gets rid of his possessions and makes the trip to his final destination in life.

One night he decides that he wants a prostitute and meets Sera.

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They go back to his motel room and while he can't perform sexually, he asks her to stay with him which she does.

Sera doesn't know why she keeps thinking about him, but goes to the spot where they met and he happens to be there.

They go for dinner and spend a lot of time talking and then go back to her apartment where they continue to talk. After learning of his plan, she suggests that he move in with her.

Ben moves in and reminds her that as he gets worse, he doesn't know if she'll be able to handle his condition. She tells him that it won't bother her.

After a few days, Sera goes back to work for herself since Al has left town.

Out of the blue, Ben and Sera decide to get out of town for the night and Ben's condition starts to get worse. He has told her that before he dies, he plans on moving to a hotel that has a balcony and a view of the city.

While Sera is out, he moves and she doesn't hear from him for twelve days and when he calls her, he tells her where he's at and she goes to him where he passes away peacefully.

Normally, I wouldn't have gone into this much detail while doing a book review, but for those who are familiar with the movie, we already know what happens.

The novel is okay, but like the movie, it's a very haunting story and while depressing, I think it's probably one of the best love stories ever written. We already know that the characters are flawed, but the book delves more into their past.

It's a relatively short novel with not too much dialogue and in Sera's flashbacks, all are done with parenthesis. At first I was confused by it but then I figured out what O'Brien was doing.

There really are no chapters to speak of, but you'll notice at the top of each section, symbols for a slot machine spelled out. The "bars" section, or rather Ben's story is fitting since this is basically his flashback/future.

At first, I couldn't get into the book, but once the two meet it starts to pick up in pace and then becomes hard to put down.

Since this is a dysfunctional love story, I wouldn't be surprised if you start taking on Sera's thinking and wonder if you could fall in love and live with an alcoholic.

Even though Sera is a strong female character, you have to try to figure out why she does this since she knows in the end what Ben's plan is and how will she cope following his death.

When it was announced that this novel was going to be made into a movie, O'Brien committed suicide and had he not died, I wonder if there would have been a sequel on how Sera coped and went on with her life.

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