The Nevada Review Gives Rave Review

The Nevada Review, a journal dedicated to articles, essays, and literature about all things Nevada, recently reviewed Fade, Sag, Crumble. Here it is in its entirety:

From The Nevada Review Vol. 4 Fall 2012 No.2
By Caleb Cage

Fade, Sag, Crumble: Ten Las Vegas Writers Confront Decay

When it comes to Las Vegas, there are standard and competing clichés. To outsiders, those who might see little more than The Strip on any given weekend, it is described as a glittery and self-contained party destination. To insiders, those who live in Vegas (or Henderson) every day of their lives, it is described as a place full of the normal ills of a large city plus industries that must constantly renew themselves for the outsiders. The difference, of course, is one of perspective, a sense of the city’s history, and a knowledge or lack of knowledge of what it takes to sustain the image of an absolutely unique city like Las Vegas, Nevada.

The truth of the matter is that both perspectives (and many more) are correct. The city does have to regenerate constantly in order to stay fresh, to continue to attract the millions of visitors who travel to it for their one-of-a-kind experiences, and to compete with the ever-increasing number of states that offer gaming and other similar attractions. As all matter of resource allocation go, appealing to outsiders like this leaves the city, for as much as it is monolithic, in a difficult position for the insiders, creating quite the tension.

This tension states that if resources must be spent to focus on constantly revolutionizing the downtown, then the same resources will not be available for continuing to care and new construction for other parts of the city. Further, if the city’s skyline is constantly being bulldozed and resurrected, then there will almost certainly be no nostalgia for the lost architecture, history, and feeling that nearly every city the size of Las Vegas should have. It is tensions like these and an understanding of the real nature of Las Vegas that are examined in the ten essays that make up Fade, Sag, Crumble, the latest product of the collaboration between Las Vegas Writes and Stephens Press for the Vegas Valley Book Festival, 2011.

“Decay is unavoidable,” editor Schott Dickensheets offers on the back cover of the book. “It’s everywhere around us, physically, socially, spiritually. In our crumbling inner cities and foreclosure-ravaged suburbs. In the widening chasms of our politics. In the erosion of the social contract that once governed how we treat each other. In our own aging bodies and diminishing ambitions.” This is as good a description of the essays contained in the book as any. Each author clearly sees decay in her or his own way, through his or her own narrative, but there is plenty of overlap and tension to make the collection interesting as well.

These Las Vegas area authors who address decay in their essays should be well known to many: Stephen Bates, Deborah Coonts, Lynette Curtis, Jarret Keene, Danielle Kelly, Andrew Kiraly, Rick Lax, Matthew O’Brien, Steve Sebelius and Stacy J. Willis. To those who know them, there will be few surprises: Sebelius writes a political screed about Nevada politics; Andrew Kiraly writes a coming of age story about himself and the changing perspectives of his youth; and Matthew O’Brien writes a multi-part essay on the gritty side(s) of downtown. The best pieces in the book are the more personal and reflective ones: when Deborah Coonts writes about physical decline and plastic surgery and when Jarret Keene writes about beating middle age by joining a band.

There is one true surprise in this work, though: many of the writers who engage on the dreary topics of moral, cultural, economic, and every other kind of decay also cannot help to admit to a certain hope as well. Perhaps it is a human optimism about the unknown. Perhaps it is wishful thinking. Whatever it is, the topic of decay seems to tee up cynicism for a group of writers that could be described as naturally cynical, and the subtext of hope comes through remarkably clearly. The hope, and the fact that Nevadans are being introspective about Nevada in Fade, Sag, Crumble, combine to make up the most satisfying aspects of this overall satisfying book.

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