We Are Called to Rise By Laura McBride, $25.
If you live in Las Vegas for any time, you grow accustomed to it as a setting for others’ escapades, both the frat-boy benders of too many movies and the moth-like sallies of real-life crooks and crazies.
Missing from most of these stories, real and imagined, is any sense of actual life in Las Vegas—of what makes it a place to live, just like any Southwestern city and yet unlike any other city on Earth. But We Are Called to Rise, a first novel by Laura McBride, who teaches at the College of Southern Nevada, is about Las Vegans whose lives intersect over several incidents of violence, in the Valley and elsewhere.
McBride gets a lot right about the city. That a teacher might moonlight as a magician, for instance, or that a teen with an addled mother might have worked nights at the Four Queens while attending high school in the day. That was Avis, now a middle-aged mother and one of the novel’s four first-person narrators. Just as her husband, an MGM executive, tells her he’s leaving her for a younger woman, her only son, an Iraq War veteran, becomes a police officer and starts showing signs of PTSD. Avis finds solace among female friends: “We lived in a misunderstood city, in a place that thrives only by convincing outsiders that it is something it is not, and the magic is how free it leaves those left within.”
She gets a few things wrong, though. It’s not the LVPD; it’s the LVMPD, a detail you’d expect a Las Vegan to get right, especially when she’s aware that coroner’s inquests almost never find a Metro officer at fault in shootings of civilians.
But McBride deftly blends Avis’ narratives with those of a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children, an 8-year-old Albanian immigrant and another young, scarred veteran. She nails the inner voices of the latter two—the worries of a boy who straddles two cultures, the frustrations of a young man recovering from a head wound and nasty memories.
Even as she avoids the usual head-slapping clichés about Las Vegas, though, McBride offers up the philandering husband and the PTSD-afflicted veteran. And little about how these overworked themes play out reflects local culture. Still, the novel, prompted by an actual 2008 police shooting in Henderson, is refreshingly wise about how Las Vegas can both liberate and entrap, sometimes at once.
Find more by Chuck Twardy at chucktwardy.com.