Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, June 16, 2001

Here I am, with no attorney, slumped on a red plastic stool in Wild Bill’s Tavern, nervously sipping a Budweiser in a bar just coming awake to an early morning rush of pimps and pinball hustlers... with a huge Red Shark just outside the door so full of felonies that I’m afraid to even look at it.

Perhaps the purest of Thompson’s searches for the American Dream because it is untainted by politics; or perhaps the most pointless for the same reason, as politics have tainted the American Dream since the Adams anti-sedition acts almost as soon as the country was born.

AuthorHunter S. Thompson
Length224 pages
Book Rating9

Thompson is ostensibly traveling to Vegas to cover the “Mint 400”, presumably a motorcycle race. But the race is quickly lost in Thompson’s trademark gonzo mania:

But first we need the car. And after that, the cocaine. And then the tape recorder, for special music, and some Acapulco shirts. The only way to prepare for a trip like this was to dress up like human peacocks and get crazy, then screech off across the desert and cover the story.

This was Thompson’s first book-length team-up with illustrator Ralph Steadman, whose images do as much as to define gonzo as Thompson’s ravings do. This is the most manic of Thompson’s books. You’ve probably already heard the drugs quote, right from the start, and rather than set the tone, it seems pedestrian once they get to the underage girl from Montana and the American Dream itself.

It has the best opening line of any book since “A Tale of Two Cities”:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Raoul Duke has been hired by a “fashionable sporting magazine in New York” to cover the “fabulous Mint 400” which is “the richest off-the-road race for motorcycles and dune-buggies in the history of organized sport--a fantastic spectacle in honor of some fatback grossero who owns the luxurious Mint Hotel in the heart of downtown Las Vegas.”

Raoul Duke was Hunter S. Thompson. Dr. Gonzo, his “Samoan lawyer”, was really Oscar Zeta Acosta, a Chicano activist (and lawyer, and author). The rest of the story is true only in the sense that truth is beauty, therefore beauty is truth, and this story is one hell of a beaut. I think it is important to understand what was going on in their lives in “real life” at the moment they decided on the trip to Las Vegas. Thompson was working in Los Angeles on a story about the “accidental” killing of journalist Ruben Salazar by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department, and he was being assisted in the story by Acosta. Thompson was going crazy stuck between two worlds, that of the law enforcement agency he suspected of deliberately killing a journalist, and that of Chicano revolutionaries who “wouldn’t need much of an excuse to chop me into hamburger”. This Faulkner-style trip to Vegas was an escape from some pretty heavy shit indeed.

“This one sounds like trouble,” his attorney responds. “You’re going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over. And my first advice is that you should rent a very fast car with no top. This blows my weekend, because naturally I’ll have to go with you--and we’ll have to arm ourselves.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is subtitled “A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream”. It analyzes the unrest and cultural changes of the sixties as just another generation trying--and failing--to reach the American Dream, a prize that is impossible to grasp amidst a police state where the old and the establishment crack down on the new generation and all of their ideals. All that is left is the excesses--and, in the end, excess is what the American Dream is all about. Whether you’re a Vegas gambler, a drug cop, or an acid freak, you’re hoping for one quick win that gives you success. The difference is that the acid freak’s success would have been peace and understanding, but it doesn’t matter. Good intentions or bad, there is no instant gratification.

After Raoul Duke finishes not covering the Mint 400, his attorney books him into a law enforcement convention. And at night, they head out into the casinos, the bars, and the late-night down-and-out diners looking for the elusive American Dream. “American Dream? Wasn’t that an old discotheque? I think it’s closed down now.”

Yeah, baby. “Some people say they like it. But then, some people like Nixon, too.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S. Thompson

Recommendation: Purchase