This is a fabulous, understated thriller and character story. A group of friends, who met in college, catch up every year in Las Vegas. There is both a reluctance and a feeling of necessity for the protagonist, Elliot, in this yearly meeting. He’s not sure they all have much in common, besides a shared history, but the ritual compels him. This year will be the first without their friend Dylan—the mediator of the group—as he has died.
Ever since Dylan died, Elliot has become privy to surprising facts about him. As a result he begins to re-analyse him, their shared history, and Dylan’s role within the group. Dylan’s secrets, and the secrets of everyone in the group, are brought to the fore when they arrive in Vegas.
There are multiple thematic strands, including the slipperiness of memory; the ease of deception and self-deception; and the artificial, superficial and false compared to the ‘real thing’ (and how the artificial can convincingly become a new reality). This is, of course, enhanced by the dazzling setting of Las Vegas. And there is grief, loss, and confusion.
I went to Las Vegas when I was just ten years old, so there was an added layer of enjoyment in this book for me. From a child’s POV, Vegas was an incredible playground. Whole floors of giant casinos are decked-out for children. And they have theme parks in their back yards. But I also remember the dirty streets, and a man thrusting into my hand a brochure for a strip club, which made my dad extremely angry. We stayed at the Luxor, and its ten mile beam of light, visible from space, gets a mention in A Common Loss.
The complexity of Vegas—where people dream, work, gamble, are seduced, marry, play, and drink themselves to death in giant rooms under flashing lights—is the perfect setting for this book about a man, an intelligent man, an academic, who realises he’s not as aware (or even self-aware) as he thought he was. Eventually, in Vegas, he begins to see behind the surfaces to the wear and tear.
There’s much more to the plot, but I don’t want to give away too much. The literary references and academic engagements of the novel (such as the observations of the character, Cynthia, who is researching ‘imitation versus authenticity’) provide much pleasure. It reminded me in some ways of a less voluminous The Secret History. An enjoyable and compelling read.
I will be chairing one panel with Kirsten Tranter, internationally acclaimed author of The Legacy, at Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival: ‘An Australian in Paris: Setting Fiction Overseas’, with Marele Day and Alan Gould, at 11:40am on Sunday 25 March. Find out more about the festival here.
This post will be added to my tally in the Australian Women Writers Reading + Reviewing Challenge.