Sunday, February 28, 2010

323. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson

History: The novel first appeared as a two-part series in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971, was printed as a book in 1972, accounting for two trips to Las Vegas, Nevada, that Hunter S. Thompson and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta took in March and April 1971.
The first trip spawned from an exposé Thompson was writing for Rolling Stone magazine about the Mexican-American television journalist Rubén Salazar, whom officers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had shot and killed with a tear gas grenade fired at close range during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War in 1970. Thompson was using Acosta — a prominent Mexican-American political activist and attorney — as a central source for the story, and the two found it difficult for a brown-skinned Mexican to talk openly with a white reporter in the racially tense atmosphere of Los Angeles, California. The two needed a more comfortable place to discuss the story and decided to take advantage of a Sports Illustrated magazine offer to write photograph captions for the annual Mint 400 desert race being held in Las Vegas.
Thompson wrote that he concluded their March trip by spending some thirty-six hours alone in a hotel room "feverishly writing in my notebook" about his experiences. The genesis of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is in that notebook.
What originally was a two-hundred-fifty-word photo-caption-job for Sports Illustrated grew to a novel-length feature story for Rolling Stone; Thompson said publisher Jann Wenner had "liked the first 20 or so jangled pages enough to take it seriously on its own terms and tentatively scheduled it for publication — which gave me the push I needed to keep working on it". He had first submitted a 2,500 word manuscript to Sports Illustrated that was "aggressively rejected".
Weeks later, Thompson and Acosta returned to Las Vegas to report for Rolling Stone on the National District Attorneys Association's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs being held from 25–29 April 1971, and to add material to the larger Fear and Loathing narrative. Besides attending the attorneys' conference, Thompson and Acosta looked for ways in Vegas to explore the theme of the American Dream, which was the basis for the novel's second half, which Thompson referred at the time as "Vegas II".
On 29 April 1971, Thompson began writing the full manuscript in a hotel room in Arcadia, California, in his spare time while completing Strange Rumblings in Aztlan, the article chronicling the slain Chicano journalist Rubén Salazar. Thompson joined the array of Vegas experiences within what he called "an essentially fictional framework" that described a singular free-wheeling trip to Vegas peppered with creative licenses.
H. S. Thompson posits that his drug use (unlike Dr. Leary's mind-expansion experimentation drug use), is intended to render him a mess; that he is the poster boy of a generation of "permanent cripples, failed seekers...;" their erratic behaviour depicts the restless failure his generation feels.
The "American Dream" is the novel's prevalent thematic motif, while searching for the literary and metaphoric American Dream, and for an eponymous real place in Las Vegas, Duke and Dr Gonzo find only a burnt psychiatric office. At story's start, Duke claims their adventure shall be a "gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country", an idea soon cooled when the excess and fear settle in them; the symbolism of the burned psychiatric office is clear. Throughout Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the protagonists go out of their way to degrade, abuse, and destroy symbols of American consumerism and excess, while Las Vegas symbolizes the coarse ugliness of mainstream American culture.
Plot: The basic synopsis revolves around journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they arrive in 1970s Las Vegas to report on the Mint 400 motorcycle race. However, they soon abandon their work and begin experimenting with a variety of recreational drugs, such as LSD, cocaine, alcohol, mescaline, and cannabis. This leads to a series of bizarre hallucinogenic trips, during which they destroy hotel rooms, wreck cars, and have visions of anthropomorphic desert animals, all the while ruminating on the decline of American culture.
Review: The book was an entertaining look at the effects a huge amount of dangerous drugs have on a person, making them do crazy things, and the paranoid delusions and hallucinations that result from them. I don't love Hunter Thompson, but I appreciate the book, because it is humourous, and probably most of it true.
Opening Line: "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."
Closing Line: "A man on the move, and just sick enough to be totally confident."
Quotes: “Jesus, where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to become president?”
Rating: Okay.

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