The Verse’s Ciara Brennan reviews Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, by Hunter S. Thompson (published in 1971 by Random House), a “4 out of 5, the novel speaks on the importance of everything we lost generations ago – something that can still be found in the dirt and grime of Las Vegas.”
Journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney friend, Dr. Gonzo, head to Las Vegas under the guise of covering the mint 400 motorcycle race, but really to find the so-called American dream. In a drug-fuelled haze, Raoul and Gonzo search for something pure in one of the supposedly seediest parts of America, hopping from one place to another, chaos following them wherever they go.
But can an ageing writer and a lawyer find one piece of beauty in the moral landfill that is Las Vegas? Between the acid trips and running, will these two find one thing that is not shrouded in turmoil?
This is an undoubtedly great book; when reading it I found myself caught up in the fiction and reality that Thompson so clearly sets out in his gonzo journalism. However, the main thing that we find caught up amidst all the mistakes, drugs and searching, is the loss of something that was perhaps never there. The book is filled with the ideas of a previous era, whilst set in a decade where all of it is lost: as the main characters search for the “American dream”, the readers realize that they are searching for something people once truly believed in.
On the surface, one could say this is a humorous book about two men going on a drug-fuelled rampage, but it is in fact about the loss of the past decade. The two keep saying they’re searching for the “American dream”, but what Raoul finds maybe more so than anything is that this dream is flawed, whether findable or not. When he finally finds it, it’s in a place where he’s already been; in a man whose dream was to be a part of a circus and ends up owning one. What he realizes is the dream isn’t a good one; it’s capitalism.
In the reality of what the American dream was – and not what it had once represented – the character must come to accept the reality that the supposed progress of the 60’s is gone (this is highlighted when he witness the arrest of Mohammed Ali in the newspaper); the civil rights movement has ended and the country voted for Nixon. Raoul realizes that, even nowadays, the people don’t drop acid anymore, but have moved onto more dangerous drugs. He is a man of the 60’s, of the progress and opportunities it represented, but he is stuck in the sad reality of the 70’s where idealism has been left behind.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is important because of what it still shows: in between the grit, the laugh and the drugs we can all see something lost there. The author, through his characters’ voices, is screaming at us to try and gain, yet again, what we lost a few generations back at the end of the 60’s: the civil rights movement, an issue extremely relevant today, with the constant rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
For those interested, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was also adapted for the screen in 1998, with Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro as Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo.
Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8m662obIvhY
Find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Vegas-American/dp/0679785892
Find the movie here: https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Vegas-Johnny-Depp/dp/0783229526
Featured image courtesy of Google Images – World of Books