Poker Book Review – Lost Vegas by Paul McGuire
Dr. Pauly Gets To Grips with The Real Sin City and its Highs and Lows
Anyone familiar with the writing of Paul “Dr. Pauly” McGuire will know that his scabrously honest and often hilarious take on poker – the business and the characters that populate it ⎯ is required reading for everyone who wants the truth.
Or at least as close to the truth as one man can sail in an industry that simultaneously invites all comers to the never ending party while regularly shoveling thousands of charred and disfigured poker dreams into mass, unmarked graves.
Through his myriad blogs covering poker, music, road trips and bacon (!) this prolific writer from New York was a breath of fresh air in the poker world when he began live reporting at the World Series of Poker in 2005.
Now the best of his acutely observed, darkly poignant tales of excess and everyday drudgery at the dark heart of the poker beast, and particularly Las Vegas, is available as a page-turning, train-wreck memoir: Lost Vegas – The Redneck Riviera, Existential Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker.
Largely spanning the period 2005 to 2008, McGuire witnesses at first hand the explosive growth of the World Series after it was sold by Binion’s to mega-conglomerate Harrah’s.
As a live reporter putting in extraordinarily long shifts for various poker media daily for the duration of the Series at the Rio, McGuire descends into a kind of madness as he chronicles the highs and lows (very literally) of the desperados who make up the cast of thousands in a city built on dreams and sustained on devilment.
McGuire’s love/hate relationship with Sin City is a recurring theme and anyone who has ever spent any length of time there will empathise easily ⎯ scratch beneath the bright lights of the big city and sadness and loneliness are never far away.
Nor is irony, gallows humour, and the plain outrageous.
As McGuire moves up the poker media food chain he seems to simultaneously move down the human weirdness chain, and his observations, cloaked in a subjective patina alternating between the bleak and the righteous, make for a fascinating insight into a city, a culture, a species, and ultimately one man, McGuire himself.
Strippers, killers, cheats, drug fiends, and idiots rub shoulders from page to page with the honest working class, dreamers, family men, the quasi-religious, and the invisible.
Clearly influenced by the writing of Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, and the European existentialists of the early 20th century, McGuire pays homage to the language and philosophies of his literary heroes and they are words and thoughts which lend themselves well to the subject matter.
In doing so he creates an easy, road trip-like rhythm, steering the book deftly through some wretched twists and turns, bumpy skullduggery (are those dead hookers under the road through the Red Rock Canyon?) and occasionally almost innocent giddiness.
Above all, however, McGuire’s book will stand as a singular, historically significant testament to the guts spilled and the glory intangible on the floor of the Rio, the back rooms of the strip bars, the hotel rooms of the hopeless, and the streets of Sin City ⎯ and I should know.
In 2008 your reviewer spent the duration of the WSOP as a live reporter, staying at the titular Redneck Riviera and can attest to the frightening accuracy of McGuire’s take on the ribald roach motel.
His descriptions of the grinding monotony of six weeks on the “killing floor” of the Rio bring a shudder to my spine. Heavy drinking, the thousand yard stare, sleep deprivation, the every-growing sense of numbness and disgust of my fellow man (mostly spectators) is an experience I can recall all too vividly and it’s difficult to explain that feeling of being lost in a semi-psychedelic dream state to someone who hasn’t done it.
Articulately, McGuire does just that and Lost Vegas is a minor triumph, written by a survivor who, perhaps despite himself, has managed to retain his soul.
Lost Vegas – The Redneck Riviera, Existential Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker is available for purchase at LuLu.com for around €18.
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