“Las Vegas,” as Joan Didion once wrote, “is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements, bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification, a place the tone of which is set by mobsters and call girls and ladies’ room attendants with amyl nitrite poppers in their uniform pockets.” It is gleefully predatory and naked in its fundament of avarice and vice of every kind. It’s a poor person’s idea of luxury.
Whereas the casinos and shopping malls cascade with wattage, a tonic mix of brand names and booze, everywhere dripping with the promise of sex and the trappings of decadence, these empty industrial outskirts are the staging — and dumping — grounds that allow such a mirage to project itself like a miasma through the hotels’ eternal midnight. These dead zones hold the waste, human and otherwise, behind the magic curtain; this wasteland is both backlot for and blowback from the Strip’s outsized simulacra.
Memories of Paris are entwined with its eateries. From Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast to expatriates’ essays in the New York Times following the terrorist attacks in November 2015, writers have shown how their lives in Paris are marked by its restaurants, bakeries, and markets. Hemingway’s account of his postwar Parisian life uses food to define his days, his success, and his relationships. His struggle to find outlets for his fiction is linked with the tantalizing “bakery shops” that “had such good things in the windows and people [eating] outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food.” He recounts meeting authors and artists for aperitifs or champagne, explaining that “drinking wine … was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer.” He wrote in cafés amid the “smell of café crèmes.” A century later, news of the November attacks brought nostalgia for one writer, who, no longer in Paris, recalled the market “beckoning with the smell of roasting chickens” and “the flash of bright fruit against stark winter skies.” Another essayist described his decision, days later, to seek out the farmers and vendors of his local market. Its reopening, he wrote, reflected the resilience of Paris: “the market will be a celebration of the city itself, unvanquished, animated and always hungry.”
My students laugh, and then I turn to the matter at hand. “This semester, I will stand before you as an elephant, but I will also try my best to be a professor.”
Elephants don’t know what it is that makes them elephants. They just are. Similarly, novelists do not consciously dwell on what they do when they write their novels. The things they mean to describe and express when they write, the territory they wish to cover, may be very different from those elements that readers and students focus on. The author of a novel is not always the best placed to interpret it, and eventually others may become more familiar with the text than he is.
There's no shortage of things to admire in My Absolute Darling — it's a devastating and powerful debut from a writer who's almost certain to have a wonderful career ahead of him.
Rushdie has always been an impish myth-manipulator, refusing to accept, as in this novel, that the lives of the emperors can’t be blended with film noir, popular culture and crime caper. On the evidence of The Golden House, he is quite right.
“Made for Love” crackles and satisfies by all its own weird rules, subversively inventing delight where none should exist. How can a book be so bright, and so dark?