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BookBrowse Reviews Paradise, Nevada by Dario Diofebi

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Paradise, Nevada

by Dario Diofebi

Paradise, Nevada by Dario Diofebi X
Paradise, Nevada by Dario Diofebi
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  • Published:
    Apr 2021, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
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A colorful, kaleidoscopic work of fiction placed in the world of the Las Vegas gaming industry that explores the lives of those who stay behind when the tourists go home.

In Dario Diofebi's novel Paradise, Nevada, the neon allure of Las Vegas is pulled back to reveal workers, strivers, gamblers and bit-part characters populating the famous strip. Each of his protagonists has come to the city in search of a fresh start — a new life, a new career — but for many, it proves to be more like limbo, a topsy-turvy world where the ordinary rules no longer apply. Through the fictional Positano, a luxury casino resort designed to be an exact replica of Italy's Amalfi coast (including sea and cliffs), Diofebi presents a vivisection of casino life, exploring all the people who are still there when the tourists go home.

As you would expect, this makes for an interesting and diverse set of characters. There's Ray, the internet-famous online poker wizard, whose obsession with the value of logic over feelings makes him certain he will dominate the live-action "feel players" of the Positano's high-stakes tables. Mary Ann is a former model trying to convince herself that her newfound job as a "bevertainer" is one she should feel lucky to have. Tommaso is an Italian tourist whose lucky streak at the small-stakes tables changes the course of his life forever. And Lindsay is a Mormon journalist who dreams of a career greater than her suburban beat. Their lives interweave, with Positano at the center, until they coalesce around a disaster that is foreshadowed early on.

Professional gambling is a fascinating niche, and Diofebi, an ex-professional poker player, provides the reader with insider knowledge. His descriptions of the high-stakes games are full of excitement and suspense. He also writes with real compassion about the lives of the frequently unappreciated waitresses and dancers — often young, attractive women whose careers are dependent on their looks and who are treated as expendable once they reach a certain age. In part, Paradise, Nevada is a novel about workers' rights, and about the struggle for fair treatment against a house that seemingly always wins.

Though there is much to enjoy about the novel, it feels just a little too long. The ending is sufficiently dramatic, but the middle drags somewhat, and many of the interludes that pepper the story seem like distractions that add little depth. Diofebi seems to be emulating writers such as David Foster Wallace, whose complex fictional worlds include the perspectives of even the most minor characters (Diofebi also uses footnotes, and even phrasing similar to Wallace's at times). Unfortunately, this similarity invites comparison — one that sees Diofebi coming up short. Though the work is certainly ambitious, he doesn't seem to quite have the stamina to keep in touch with so many characters and still draw us on towards the (admittedly exciting) conclusion. However, the breadth of the novel does give him ample room to explore many interesting themes and subcultures — from gentrification to Mormonism to the alt-right.

Las Vegas, with all its absurdity, debauched glamour, opportunism and hucksterism, is prime real estate for the setting of a novel. It promises, if nothing else, to be damn entertaining. Paradise, Nevada makes good on this promise, offering up the perverse magic of this strange city while never letting you forget that it's all just one big show.

This review first ran in the June 9, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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