Author Jay Rankin has self-published his memoir of the six years he worked as a doorman at the MGM Grand Las Vegas. His employment began when the hotel casino opened in 1993. At that time it was considered the largest hotel in the world and corporations had long replaced the mob. Naturally, he has stories to tell as the exploits of many of the visitors and a few of the residents reinforce the town's nickname "Sin City."
The book opens on June 28, 1997, the night of Tyson vs. Holyfield II when Tyson was disqualified at the end of the third round for twice biting off pieces of Holyfield's ears. Mayhem erupts all around as the crowd comes roaring out of the stadium, all fired up about the abrupt ending. Rankin does a good job capturing the scene.
The story then flashes back and we meet Jay's wife Cassy, who had come out with him from Los Angeles. They have a spec house they are working on when Jay gets the job. Jay also introduces the other people in his life: his friend Sam, co-workers former marine Todd a.k.a. T-bone and their proselytizing supervisor Dick, and hotel-related associates from cabbies to prostitutes.
Under the Neon Sky is a straightforward tale and slightly suffers from being too ordinary. Las Vegas is a town that has been the scene of many classic stories, such as Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mike Figgis' Leaving Las Vegas, Martin Scorsese's Casino, and even 2009's comedic smash hit The Hangover, so the terrain has been covered pretty extensively and while Rankin has interesting anecdotes that don't stay in Vegas, they don't meet the bar others have set before him.
Part of the problem is that most of what transpires reads a little too familiar, as there's no surprise at the outcomes when drugs are abused and relationships fracture. While the personal struggles are of course hugely significant in the lives of the people involved, they might not register as high with the reader because they are predictable and expected.
Another disconnect comes from Rankin's use of language and word choices. His writing is very direct and matter of fact, causing the book to read more like a newspaper account.
The level of enjoyment Under the Neon Sky provides will likely be in proportion to the reader's familiarity and personal experiences with Las Vegas and the people in the book. The best parts are when Rankin details the area's rich history from gangster Bugsy Siegel to the Aladdin Hotel and nuclear testing in the Nevada desert. The book is a pleasant enough, quick read, but not the first place you should turn to learn about Las Vegas, and if you have made enough trips, your stories may be equally as engaging, if not more so, and likely more unpredictable.