Vegas Girls author Heather Skyler on the constant allure of the desert (and its suburbs)
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Heather Skyler left town in 1987 to pursue college and a career, but the author keeps coming back — in her fiction, that is. In her smart, perceptive debut novel, 2004’s The Perfect Age, teenager Helen learns about first love, loyalty and deception over the course of one languorous, sun-drenched Vegas summer. Skyler’s latest, Vegas Girls, is less about youthful realizations than adult reflection. The premise: three women, former high-school classmates, meet up in their neon hometown for an informal reunion. No cliché Hangover hijinks ensue, but that isn’t to say that Vegas serves only as a mere backdrop. Rather, it’s the stage for a sharp examination of midlife disappointments, dreams deferred and how the past isn’t ever quite passed.
“I wanted to write about something that, in part, involved mothers dealing with children, and how hard that can be on a marriage — when the mothers are starting to get irritable,” she says, laughing. (Skyler is a mother of two teens.) “That felt very real to me at the time I was writing the book. I wanted to make those everyday feelings dramatic.”
You could say her ambitious approach to the book was dramatic as well. The story, which takes place over seven days, is told in vignettes from five different points of view: three women, Ivy, Ramona and Jane; and two men, Jeremy and Rex. Skyler says the choice of structure seemed to serve as useful device for narrative momentum as well.
“I don’t know if it’s my schtick or what — I wrote The Perfect Age with multiple points of view as well — but I like how moving among different characters keeps the story moving forward. I also wanted to come at marriage and motherhood from different angles. I originally wrote the whole book with just the three women, but it wasn’t feeling right. I realized I was missing the male voices, and I like the way adding them brought it alive.”
The Vegas of Vegas Girls will be familiar to locals: more strip mall than Strip, more slow-burning suburban intrigue than urban drama. Which isn’t to say that this story could take place anywhere. All of the novel’s characters, whether it’s new mother Ivy, who runs into an old high-school flame at the grocery store, or Rex, a recent divorcé trying to navigate new singledom in a town of transient pleasures, are profoundly shaped by their Vegas experience.
“Having grown up there and spent my formative years there, Vegas is just burned into my consciousness somehow,” Skyler says, explaining the city's appeal as a setting.
The novel she’s working on now, tentatively titled Ragtown, is also set in Las Vegas, specifically, a desolate, post-recession subdivision on the edge of town where an intentional community takes root. Beyond that, Skyler has plenty of story and novel ideas that take place in other locales, but she feels there’s plenty of Vegas left over for exploration.
“I feel like there’s a dearth of novels about ‘regular’ Las Vegas, and Vegas still feels so uncharted. And the desert’s always an interesting setting. The scarcity and bleakness add a lot of mood,” she says. “I’ve lived in a bunch of other places as long as I’ve lived there, but I don’t feel nearly as connected to them.”
Heather Skyler reads from Vegas Girls 7p Oct. 13 at The Writers Block. Info: thewritersblock.org