In the Novel, She Does Not Have a "Heart of Gold"
The story of John O'Brien (author of "Leaving Las Vegas") as told by his little sister is an interesting look at the systems and patterns that contribute to a writing life punctuated by dissolution and death.

"Leaving Las Vegas: Rearview"

Heartbreaking in its own right, this lengthy essay makes you wonder, as always, what would have happened if something inside Mr. O'Brien had made the powder in his pistol as wet as his ways, and left him alive to write more.

He killed himself in 1994. The Academy Award-winning movie "version" of his story came out in 1995. O'Brien killed himself two weeks into the film's production, maybe after realizing that fame wouldn't cure him either. They went ahead and made the movie anyway.

Consider this bit about the novel that he left unfinished, a book that sounds like it would have been really grand:

"Outwardly, "Tony's" chronicles a group of wealthy alcoholic men who barricade themselves in a posh bar while race riots rage all around them. But the maelstrom at the heart of "The Assault on Tony's" has little to do with social unrest. The driving impetus of the novel is John's difficult relationship with Dad, who expected a hunting and fishing buddy and a man's man in his only son. Instead he got a dark, moody kid who would infuriate him with rebellion again and again.

Had John lived to flesh out and iron out "Tony's", it might have been a great American novel. But "Tony's" was first-draft quality and there was nothing to be done about it."

Raymond Carver said he never wrote anything worth a damn the whole time he was drinking. We worship our alcoholic writers here in America, but here's a thought: maybe we shouldn't worship them for their alcoholism? Maybe not even a writer can beat addiction with the magic power of lies? Maybe they need help, and maybe we should listen to them when they say they would be better storytellers if they were sober?

Who knows, though. Not me. It's certainly damn decent of his little sister to edit this novel for him and get it out there for readers. I hope it doesn't get turned into a movie that makes even more flat, silly actors famous.


According to O'Brien's little sister, who is evidently his main exegete:

"John also wrote an episode of the children's television show "Rugrats" under the pen name Carol Mine, which was the name of the main character in [his novel] "Stripper Lessons." Rugrats episode #37 is called "Toys in the Attic."

Evidently, it was the only other work for which he was ever paid besides "Leaving Las Vegas," which was a commercial failure until the movie came out. By then, he was gone.

Check out her blog to learn more, to see fascinating half-naked pictures of her, and to read some interesting interviews.


Posted by miracle on Wed, 28 May 2008 07:13:38 -0400 -- permanent link

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