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Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas

5.0 6
by John O'Brien

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Leaving Las Vegas, the first novel by John O'Brien, is a disturbing and emotionally wrenching story of a woman who embraces life and a man who rejects it, a powerful tale of hard luck and hard drinking and a relationship of tenderness and destruction. An avowed alcoholic, Ben drinks away his family, friends, and, finally, his job. With deliberate resolve, he burns


Leaving Las Vegas, the first novel by John O'Brien, is a disturbing and emotionally wrenching story of a woman who embraces life and a man who rejects it, a powerful tale of hard luck and hard drinking and a relationship of tenderness and destruction. An avowed alcoholic, Ben drinks away his family, friends, and, finally, his job. With deliberate resolve, he burns the remnants of his life and heads for Las Vegas to end it all in the last great binge of his hopeless life. On the Strip, he picks up Sera, a prostitute, in what might have become another excess in his self-destructive jag. Instead, their chance meeting becomes a respite on the road to oblivion as they form a bond that is as mysterious as it is immutable. Leaving Las Vegas tells a powerful story of unconditional love between two disenfranchised souls who connect for a fleeting moment.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
O'Brien's first novel, which uses a present-tense format for immediacy and heavy-handed irony to call attention to its characters' delusions and false optimism, explores a merciless world ruled by sex and booze. Sera, a surprisingly well-paid hooker from L.A., finds making a living in the squalid streets and casinos of Las Vegas fairly simple, provided that injuries from abusive tricks do not leave permanent scars; trouble starts when Al, her former pimp, tracks her down to reassert his authority. Her initial fear of Al's notorious cruelty turns to pity, however, and she frees herself of the self-destructive love she once felt for him to begin a gentler yet equally destructive relationship with Ben, a Southern Californian who has decided that Las Vegas's perpetually open bars are the perfect place to drink himself to death. Sera cares for Ben, and her compassion elicits the reader's sympathy and hope despite Sera's dead-end occupation and Ben's steadily worsening condition. Fast-paced and violent, this saga is derivative of such chroniclers of dereliction as Charles Bukowski and Larry Brown. (May)
Library Journal
The focal character in this harsh look at the underside of Las Vegas, attractive prostitute Sera, endures much and survives. Financially astute and not displeased with life, Sera finds her equilibrium shattered after she is beaten and sodomized. Seeking solace, she falls into a real relationship with middle-aged, alcoholic Ben. While not transformed into a whore with the proverbial heart of gold, Sera finds that she does have the capacity to love. Neither morality tale nor titillating potboiler, this powerful first novel features solid character development, vivid sense of place, and much tough sex. Offering heightened or supercharged realism in the tradition of Hubert Selby Jr.'s classic Last Exit to Brooklyn ( LJ 10/15/64), it demands and deserves serious literary attention.-- James B. Hemesath, Adams State Coll. Lib., Alamosa, Col.
From the Publisher

Praise for Leaving Las Vegas:

“A brutal and unflinching portrait of the low life in the city of high rollers, Leaving Las Vegas is both shocking and curiously exhilarating. John O’Brien was a stunningly talented writer who created poetry from the most squalid materials. This is a beautiful and horrifying novel.”—Jay McInerney

“There is not a false note in the novel . . . O’Brien has a strong tradition behind him here, that of American naturalism, and he fits into it well. From Stephen Crane to Hubert Selby, Jr. . . . [O’Brien] achieves real power in his writing. You seldom encounter it anymore, but when you do you know you’ve been properly whacked by a real talent.”New York Daily News

“Here is that rarest jewel, a really fine novel. It’s a magical piece of work, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. John O’Brien has a very great talent.”—Larry Brown

“This book is not only dark and dire, it is crushing. How can a novel so absolutely devoid of hope be so gripping? The portrait of Sera and Ben is a tour de force—masterful and relentless. Leaving Las Vegas is the strongest and most extreme look at alcohol I’ve ever read. This book moved and bothered me and weeks later it is still in my mind. I think O’Brien is simply terrific.”—Ron Carlson

“[An] immense writing talent . . . John O’Brien’s life ended with a gunshot. Leaving Las Vegas, for its intensity, its bravado, and its legacy—an American tragedy that would pave the way for many more—only begins to understand why.”Esquire

“An oddly romantic, bender-to-oblivion book.”Entertainment Weekly

“The novel imbues its main characters with something the movie can only hint at: an acute awareness of the extreme—and chosen—circumstance of their lives. The book’s unique power resides in this awareness; and it allows O’Brien to breathe new life into two of the most familiar and overused archetypes of popular fiction: the drunk and the whore . . . Ben’s impulse to destroy himself is so psychologically unspecific as to be sublime.”Boston Review

Product Details

Grove Atlantic
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st Grove Press pbk. ed
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

Meet the Author

John O’Brien was born in 1960 and lived most of his life in California until his death in 1994.

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Leaving Las Vegas 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Never has a book or character so completely broken me down emotionally. I have never encountered a character who brought hope, sadness, sympathy, and anger all wrapped into one. O'Brien creates a character that lives in all of us, although we may not admit it, he gives us hope of acheving true love in the most dire circumstances. O'Brien's ability to creat such a beautiful love between two disenchanted and lost souls is a reminder that the world lost a truly great writer
Guest More than 1 year ago
The thing about Leaving Las Vegas is that it doesn't drift. Just as the lead character is set on drinking himself to death in Vegas, so the plot thickens with tastefulness until that last drink. And I say this although I am not an imbiber. Ranks right up there with Heinrich Boll's The Clown and Camus' The Fall.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the most brilliant stories ever written. A saga of unqualified acceptence, and a magnificent character study of what is to be an alcholic. O'Brien captures perfectly the heart of what humanity's two strongest emotions are-love and determination. Beyond alcholism, the book uniquely reveals the gripping conflict between the integrity of oneself and love for another. It's a wonderful novel, and I cannot recommend it enough.