Paradise, Nevada feels determined to be a novel of ideas, and in this regard it swings hard for the fences. Treating Las Vegas as a microcosm for America at large is a smart idea, and it’s one Dario Diofebi executes well. It’s a city that lures people in promising an even playing field where anyone can strike it big no matter where they come from or who they are, a lie it has steadily maintained for nearly a century. The title of the book refers to the fact that what we commonly understand as Las Vegas is itself an illusion because most of the Vegas strip and the airport that services it are actually outside the city limits of Las Vegas in the unincorporated region of Paradise, Nevada.
Diofebi is at his best when he is puncturing the image Las Vegas (and, through association, the American Dream) has built up. Unfortunately, Diofebi has a lot of ideas, and he stuffs all of them into this debut novel: the evolution of game theory in poker, labor rights in casinos, the commodification of women, immigration, the American Dream as a futile pursuit, the Mormon religion in a town billed as sinful, and more. It’s a lot, and as the book progresses it becomes clear that these ideas are more important to Diofebi than the craft. For example, the characters aren’t as important as the setting, so don’t go in expecting a lot of deft character work.
All this stuff Diofebi packs in proves to be too much. A significantly shorter novel with a much tighter focus would have been much better. Which is a shame, because when Diofebi makes a point it lands well. It just gets lost in the deluge of everything else going on.