John O'Brien's books have established him as a writer who communicated the voice of the loner with blistering realness and unmistakable force. In Leaving Las Vegas, he wove a love story of incredible passion among two lost souls. In The Assault on Tony's, he unfolded a psychological drama among five drunks who spend their last days barricaded in a bar. Stripper Lessons is perhaps O'Brien's most interior and intense book, a powerful story of a man's obsessive search to belong.In Stripper Lessons, O'Brien details the dark and simple life of Carroll, a middle-aged, unmarried, friendless man whose only joy is watching beautiful women dance. Terribly shy and unable to socially: with the people around him, Carroll's fascination with the women at his favorite club is totally innocent; his desire for them is the desire to be connected. There, he finds solace in the routine, the rules, and the predictability of the action; inside, a dollar or two will win him affection. But when his desire for a particular dancer,takes him one step too far, his entire life threatens to crumble.As
O'Brien's first novel, which uses a present-tense format for immediacy and heavy-handed irony to call attention to its characters' delusions and false optimism, explores a merciless world ruled by sex and booze. Sera, a surprisingly well-paid hooker from L.A., finds making a living in the squalid streets and casinos of Las Vegas fairly simple, provided that injuries from abusive tricks do not leave permanent scars; trouble starts when Al, her former pimp, tracks her down to reassert his authority. Her initial fear of Al's notorious cruelty turns to pity, however, and she frees herself of the self-destructive love she once felt for him to begin a gentler yet equally destructive relationship with Ben, a Southern Californian who has decided that Las Vegas's perpetually open bars are the perfect place to drink himself to death. Sera cares for Ben, and her compassion elicits the reader's sympathy and hope despite Sera's dead-end occupation and Ben's steadily worsening condition. Fast-paced and violent, this saga is derivative of such chroniclers of dereliction as Charles Bukowski and Larry Brown. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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November 22, 1995
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