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A writer whose novel was his suicide note


‘For the first time in his life Rudd found himself wishing for death, hoping (praying?) that the walls came down before the liquor ran out, that they were stormed, bombed or shot in some truculent surprise attack, some irresistible force, divine intervention’ from The Assault on Tony’s

American author, John O’Brien’s first novel Leaving Las Vegas published in 1990 by Watermark Press was also a hugely successful movie of the same name starring Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue. On April 10, 2010, O’Brien committed suicide by gunshot two weeks after learning that his novel was to be made into a movie. He was only 33 years old at that time. His father later said the novel was his suicide note.

At the time of his death, he had left three books in various stages of completion. Stripper Lessons (Grove Press, 1997) was published exactly as was left with the exception of some copy-editing. The Assault on Tony’s (Grove Press, 1996), which was unfinished at the time of his death, was completed by his sister Erin O’Brien. She compiled the novel’s conclusion from his notes and contributed part of Day 16 and all of Day 17, as well as the Afterword. Better, his third posthumous title, was published by Akashic Press in 2009.

John O’Brien communicated the voice of the loner and the drunk with almost candid force and reality. He gave voice to the outcast and captured the hope and honesty that the most simple lives are built on. While John O’Brien was an avowed atheist, his fiction was replete with religious icons, particularly angels. Leaving Las Vegas was a poignant love story of passion and unconditional love between two lost souls, a man who was drinking himself to death and a prostitute, name Sera (short for Seraph or angel of the highest order). This was a recurrent theme in his other works. In Stripper Lessons, Carroll is a middle-aged, unmarried, friendless man, fascinated by the women at his favorite stripper’s joint. He finds solace in their routine, and the predictability of their action when only a few dollars will win him affection. He reaches out to Stevie, one of the strippers, because he thinks she’s an angel, – ‘a window to a nicer place.’ The Assault on Tony’s is a psychological drama about five drunks who spend their last days barricaded in a bar.

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. ryunosuketsukue #

    it’s too bad he killed himself, great novel and great film.

    November 18, 2011
  2. Thanks for this fascinating post. Leaving Las Vegas is a powerful movie and you have tempted me not to have a look at the other books mentioned. Great – Diane

    November 18, 2011
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  12. This is heartbreaking, Subhakar. Makes me want to cry. I’ve never watched more than a few minutes of Leaving Las Vegas, never read it or his other books. And didn’t even know the author had committed suicide. How utterly heartbreaking.

    December 21, 2011
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    April 8, 2012

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