Middling wanderings along the Las Vegas Strip and the Nevada desert.
With a hat tip to Bill Maher, a new rule emerges from these pages: If you’re going to write about Las Vegas and enter gonzo territory, you had better write as well as Hunter Thompson. D’Agata (Creative Writing/Univ. of Iowa; Halls of Fame: Essays, 2001, etc.) doesn’t approach those grand heights, and the heart sinks a touch at seeing some of the halfhearted flourishes: “What I’d planned to do was help my mother find her new home. Help her move in. Get my mom settled.” Such telegraphy seems to serve no purpose, and the narrative, studded with single-sentence paragraphs, is similarly disjointed to no real effect. As his sense of geography indicates, he’s a stranger ’round these parts, though he adopts a local cause célèbre in the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste controversy and makes himself a little more at home exploring it. D’Agata takes a roundabout path getting to some of the finer points of that imbroglio, with textbook-like detours—“Cognitive science is the study of how humans know themselves. It explores how we perceive, reason, and interact with the world through the complex negotiation of objects and ideas”—gossipy dishing of local eco-hero Edward Abbey and musings on suicide and mutant fish. Ultimately, the piece has an unfinished, workshoppy feel, and it doesn’t deliver significant news about either Yucca Mountain or Las Vegas—yes, the place is an assault on the senses; yes, it makes people unhappy; yes, it’s one of the more bizarre locales on the planet.
Well-meaning but off the mark.