Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lost Vegas Review

It's not easy to write a book. I've written one, and you can't read it, even if you ask nicely. It's really bad. I finished it my senior year of college as a directed study, and while some parts of it are OK, the majority of it is unfiltered dreck. And I was really trying hard to write something good, too, at least most of the time. At least half of the time. Three nights out of a hundred, at least. Maybe four. OK, I wrote it drunk.

So, like I say, it's really hard to write a book. It's even harder to write one that works; thus I must say with some small authority that Pauly must have worked his Rutherford-the-Brave off (if you know what I mean and I doubt that you do) in order to pull off Lost Vegas.

It's Pauly's memoir of being in Vegas at the height of WSOP madness. It also is about Lime Toss. It's also about desperation. You'll see.

You should check it out. It's on sale here. It's not a slanket, but it would still make a darn nice Christmas present for your kids, provided your kids are degenerates*.

Oh, here's the review I wrote for Al Can't Hang over at Poker From The Rail.

*They are.

From March 21-23 of 1970, the Mint 400, an off-road omni-vehicular race of dune buggies, motorcycles, and other modes of transportation both 2-wheeled and 4-wheeled, tore through the desert outside of Las Vegas in a miasma of dust and diesel fumes. Journalist and madman (not in that order) Hunter S. Thompson, himself tearing around in a miasma of ether and psychedelic pharmaceuticals, was at that race, in body if not entirely in spirit. He was on assignment to cover the race, and what he produced was a book that was almost entirely not about the race at all. It was about . . . well, that’s up to you. It was about bats, for sure. Beyond that it all sort of starts to blurrrrrrrrr . . .

I say all that to say this:

In 2005, a young fellow name of Pauly “McGrupp” McGuire, journalist and madman (not in that order) was in that same town, murking his way through a fusty fug of Axe body spray, casino cleanser, cheap perfume and deadbeat desperation — by which I mean the World Series of Poker. Pauly was on assignment to cover that event, which by all accounts he did, if you read or his own fine blog Tao of Poker. Out of that experience, and several years following, he wrote a book of his own, Lost Vegas.

I’m here to tell you, brothers and sisters of the congregation: Lost Vegas is about as interested in poker as Fear and Loathing was in the Mint 400. Sure, WSOP happening in the background, but Lost Vegas is not about poker. It’s almost not about poker as a mission statement. Instead, it’s about being in that time, and that place. More specifically, it’s about being Paul McGuire in Las Vegas; there during the World Series of Poker, sure, and covering it, sure, but that’s just the wallpaper. These are impressions of a lifeguard on duty when a singularly large and greasy wave swelled out from the sea of the American Dream, lapped up on shore, elevated a few, killed many others, and, for the rest of us, got a bit of sand between our toes.

So yeah: poker. But I’d be hard pressed to tell you that there’s a single hand of poker recounted. Bracelets are won and championships are mentioned in throwaway lines, as just another part of the scenery and the madness. It’s as if Hamlet is murdered offstage by running spades, while Rosencranz and Guildenstern spend an entire fascinating chapter playing a made up game called “lime toss.”

This is not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing. You’ve already read enough about poker, haven’t you? It’s all on the Tao if you haven’t, and here on the Full Tilt blogs, and many other fine sources. See, that was the Lost Vegas revelation to me. I’d expected something somewhat different: a tell-all about the pros you know, perhaps, or something sordid about Norman Chad’s personal life. Or, perhaps, it was something else. A piece about how awesome it is to be up front and personal as Dreams Are Made® and Only In Vegas® and It Could Happen To YOU!

Nope. This is not the propaganda. It’s not even The Truth, or at least not The Truth of Poker. It’s more like The Truth of Pauly. In short, it’s a memoir; I suspect the first of several. Don’t buy it if you want to find out what Phil Ivey is really like. Buy it if you want to know what it’s like to be in Vegas because you have no place else to be, to be love with something you hate, to be consumed by what you consume. To come back to something because it’s all you’ve got. For Pauly, it seems that poker is the sore tooth he can’t stop touching because it feels so much better to touch it than not to.

I have a growing sense I’m making the book sound like a downer. There’s a very good reason for that: It actually IS a downer. However, I should be clear, it’s not always so. Lost Vegas doesn’t try to make the Poker Dream seem like anything other than a pretty mirage, nor does it try to inflate its author into the big damn hero; however, in the cracks and seams of the seamy side, it finds tiny transcendent moments. When a book manages to be honest about the shortcomings of its own subject, it can make the beauty more honest, too, somehow more hard-earned. There’s not gold at the end of the rainbow, but the silver lining, it expands.

Paul McGuire wrote a book, y’all. Why not pick it up? It’s a safe bet you’re not going to read another poker book like it.


TripJax said...

I would like to read your book.

Dr. Pauly said...

Thanks for the kind words.