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Beautiful Childrenby Charles Bock
Beautiful Children, recently chosen as a New York Times notable book of the year, is a novel to which you cannot be indifferent. It is a tour de force that plunges into the seedy Vegas underground, with Charles Bock (the son of pawnbrokers) uniquely positioned to serve as a guide. He covers what is really happening in our basements, bedrooms, back alleys, and bars, showing us things we may not want, but need, to see. Las Vegas may not be one of our more literary cities, but it has produced a real up-and-coming literary talent.
"Like Don DeLillo, his influential predecessor in chronicling contemporary fear, Bock sounds an alarm: something is wrong in America, his novel tells us, when we allow the current conditions to exist unchallenged and unchecked. Exquisitely attuned to what is most destabilizing in our culture, he has his finger on those veins of anxiety that start deep within the individual and flow outward to create a giant societal web of unease. But while DeLillo's characters have always been stick figures frozen into various gestures of anomie, Bock animates the flamboyant structure of his novel with a dark, pulsating heart, juggling with admirable facility the contrapuntal voices and stories of more than half a dozen major characters. With its famous facsimiles of New York and Egypt and Polynesia, Las Vegas may be a giant deception in the desert, but Charles Bock is the real thing." Ruth Franklin, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
One Saturday night in Las Vegas, twelve-year-old Newell Ewing goes out with a friend and doesn't come home. As the boy's distraught parents navigate the mystery of what's become of their son, the circumstances surrounding Newell's vanishing and other events on that same night reverberate through the lives of seemingly disconnected strangers: a comic book illustrator in town for a weekend of debauchery; a painfully shy and possibly disturbed young artist; a stripper who imagines moments from her life as if they were movie scenes; a bubbly teenage wiccan anarchist; a dangerous and scheming gutter punk; a band of misfit runaways.
These urban nomads, each with a past to hide and a pain to nurture, search for salvation as they barrel toward destruction, weaving their way through a neon underworld of sex, drugs, and the spinning wheels of chance.
"A wide-ranging portrait of an almost mythically depraved Las Vegas, this sweeping debut takes in everything from the bland misery of suburban Nevada to the exploitative Vegas sex industry. At the nexus of this Dickensian universe is Newell Ewing, a hyperactive 12-year-old boy with a comic-book obsession. One Saturday night, Newell disappears after going out with his socially awkward, considerably older friend. Orbiting around that central mystery are a web of sufferers: Newell's distraught parents, clinging onto a fraught but tender marriage; a growth-stunted comic book illustrator; a stripper who sacrifices bodily integrity for success; and a gang of street kids. Into their varying Vegas tableaux, Bock stuffs an overwhelming amount of evocative detail and brutally revealing dialogue (sometimes in the form of online chats). The story occasionally gets lost in amateur skin flicks, unmentionable body alterations and tattoos, and the greasy cruelty of adolescents, all of which are given unflinching and often deft closeups. The bleak, orgiastic final sequence, drawing together the disparate plot threads, feels contrived, but Bock's Vegas has hope, compassion and humor, and his set pieces are sharp and accomplished." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This debut shows plenty of ambition and promise but could use a streamlining of subplots....On some level, everyone is a predator, and any beauty that these children once had has been either taken from them or bartered." Kirkus Reviews
"This powerful indictment of a culture of 'people hurting people for no reason' promises to shake up the moral conscience of every reader. A comprehensive drama; highly recommended." Library Journal
"Bock's characters are well drawn, he works to tie his plot threads together, and he clearly cares about runaways...but his debut novel deflates too abruptly at its close. More raw than its title suggests, this is not for the weak of stomach or faint of heart." Booklist
"The story, rendered beautifully, even heartbreakingly, plays out at top speed, blocked only by a chunk of chat-room text and a few other odd snippets. Yet the doom enveloping Newell is so palpable it almost suffocates the reader, too. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Beautiful Children has no real built-in trajectory....This book's structure is so slack that it seems like a string of overlapping individual sketches, some much better than others." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Beautiful Children is not an easy read, nor is it a polished work....And yet this novel deserves to be read more than once because of the extraordinary importance of its subject matter and the sensitivity with which he treats it." John Burdett, The Washington Post Book World
"[I]n the end I feel that too much in Beautiful Children is told rather than shown, that the repetitions slow down the story, and that the novel could have been shaped into something more compelling. Even when Bock begins to dig deeper, he seems to lose his nerve. That is a shame, because he has real talent and insight." The Boston Globe
"Wholly original — dirty, fast, and hypnotic. The sentences flicker and skip and whirl, like the neon city Bock writes about. It will change the way you look at Las Vegas." Esquire
In this masterly debut novel, Bock mixes incandescent prose with devious humor to capture Las Vegas with unprecedented scope and nuance. Beautiful Children is an odyssey of heartache and redemption as each character barrels toward personal destruction.
About the Author
Charles Bock was born in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has an MFA from Bennington College and has received fellowships from Yaddo, UCross, and the Vermont Studio Center. He lives in New York City. Visit the author's website at www.beautifulchildren.net.
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