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Beautiful Children [Paperback]

Charles Bock
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

13 Jan 2009
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.

Product details

  • Paperback: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade; Reprint edition (13 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812977963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977967
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,377,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Ravishing and raw... What should be said of the results of his labors? One word: bravo"

and, as corruptly compelling as Vegas, and as beautiful as the illusions its characters cling to for survival

(New York Times Book Review)

Has great energy and some lovely writing. Bears comparison to Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections or Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe novels.

It shares with these books the sharp eye for the minutiae of domestic arrangements,

the excess of detail mirroring the way consumer materialism shapes the interpersonal

transactions of the middle-class American home, and a sense of elegy for how the

promise of the American Dream more often than not (at least in literature) seems to get lost.

(Sydney Morning Herald)

'It's 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 Magazine (US))

Rich and compelling (LA Times)

The brilliant sentence-on-sentence prose gives the book its power an impressive novel (The London Paper)

Beautiful Children careens from the seedy to the beautiful, the domestic to the epic, all with huge and exacting heart. (Jonathan Safran Foer)

It is stunning, near genius. Beautiful Children is brutal, erotic and like a wild potentially dangerous rideit could crash at any moment. The language has a rhythm wholly its owna nervous kind of be-bob. It is as though Bock saved up everything for this momenta major new talent. (A. M. Homes)

Beautiful Children is a fucking mind-blower! It is so good practically every sentence shines. You've got a sensation on your hands. (Sean Wilsey, author of Oh The Glory Of It All)

Beautiful Children is one of the finest first novels I have ever read. Brilliant, simmering, erotic, this dark adventure takes the world apart and offers it to you, piece by heart-stopping piece. (Allison Smith, author of Name all the Animals)

Charles Bock takes us somewhere in Beautiful Children that most of us would be afraid to go alone: across the neon deserts of the new west and into an underworld that is the world. Follow him. This is a journey, and a novel, that allows us no turning back. (Walter Kirn, author of Thumbsucker and Up In The Air)

His ability to share a deep understanding of America . . . gives the book a whiff of greatness (Washington Post)

'A distinctive debuta painfully well-observed account of loss both loss of innocence and physical loss' (Independent)

'Bocks debut shows potential' (Observer/Review)

'Charles Bocks ambitious, witty and immensely affecting debut novel . . . Beautiful Children proves to be a real winner, one created out of nailing the mecca for all losers.' (Independent on Sunday)

'The inside glimpse at husband and wife struggling to keep their marriage together is particularly poignant' (Image)

'Bock combines a sharp and wry humour with a persuasive critique of the hypocrisy inherent within American capitalism leaves you hankering for more of what this touching and funny writer might have to offer' (Metro (London and Scotland))

'tragedy and redemption amidst the gaudy glitter of Las Vegas' (Waterstones Books Quarterly)

'(A) tragic and suspenseful story' (Dazed and Confused) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A post-modern Catcher in the Rye

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What happens in Vegas 21 May 2008
If you like TC Boyle, if the stories of Raymond Carver strike a chord, then Beautiful Children is for you. The story is set in Las Vegas, the throbbing heart of America's lie about itself: that life is a game that can be played and won. It's a downbeat tale, centering on the disappearance of a twelve year old boy, the struggle of his parents to deal with the disaster, the events that led up to it, but most importantly, the connections between this and a carefully selected cast of others, the flotsam and jetsam that wash up on Vegas's grimy shores, or who strive to make a living there and not be overwhelmed by the brutal realities of a city whose sole purpose is to entertain.

Bock says in his afterword that the book took a long time to write. All of that effort shows on the page. There are a lot of words, but they all need to be there. It's rare that I don't become impatient with a story, flipping to the end to get the resolution without having to wade through the author's attempts to keep me engaged. Beautiful Children is one of those rare exceptions. OK, I did weaken and turn to the back at one point, but the story is so well put together, that cheating didn't work. I had to go back and read the rest to find out why things end up the way they do. I like that about a book.

There are a few niggles. Newell, the lost boy, is twelve when he vanishes. I felt he should have been a year older, or more mature, for the logic behind his disappearance to really work. The story of one character, a low rent comic book artist, loses momentum and trails away in the middle section of the book. As he represents the "tourist" in Bock's tarot array of types, his perspective is needed all the way through, to keep us remembering that there is a world outside the oasis of casinos.
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Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars  63 reviews
86 of 94 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars surprisingly disappointing 7 Feb 2008
By Brooklyn reader - Published on Amazon.com
What I want most from a novel is to be transported and totally taken up into a character's world, and in those respect I couldn't connect with this novel. I found the lost child plot surprisingly leaden, just like the style and tone of the most of the rest of the book. Other commenters have said, this book tells more than shows, and I'd agree with that, and just add that the fact that so much of the prose is summary and a series of lists and litanies added to that deadened, flat-footed quality. It's also the reason, I think, that these characters don't really feel distinct from one another--the author too often conveys their lives in list and summary rather than creating scenes that live on the page. The places that are described don't feel particularly real to me--having been to Vegas and having seen it on television and in movies, I wanted to see the city in a new way, and in this book the imagery felt too flat and familiar.

Reading this book brought to mind a number of titles that do similar things much better. Those looking for a much stronger nerd character ala Bix should read Junot Diaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in which an irresistible character is conjured with a lot of verve and warmth. For a multi-layered, multi-character exploration of a dissolute city, I'd highly recommend Bruce Wagner's I'm Losing You, which tempers pathos with a dark humor and also a sense of compassion, and has a lot more depth than this novel. On that note, also Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion--you get the layers and points of view in the context of characters who are so real that it hurts.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Middle Ground -- Readers Will Either Love It or Hate It 23 Feb 2008
By Steve Koss - Published on Amazon.com
Without doubt, Charles Bock's BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN is a novel of extremes, and readers' reactions are likely to take that love/hate form as well. Some will find Bock's writing bluntly searing, his scarred adolescent characters sympathetic, his message of a lost generation tragic. Others will be repulsed by his wallowing in the social underbelly of America's national underbelly, Las Vegas, or they will reject his literary pyrotechnics as gratuituous, semi-pornographic, too-clever-by-half attention-seeking (a notion only too readily confirmed by his scruffy visage and too-punk-by-half-for-a-Bennington-College-MFA website). I found myself leaning with admiration more toward the former attitude than the latter, although I can see a multitude of reasons for some readers to reject this first novel and its subject matter out of hand.

Bock's story follows two alternating timelines, predominantly in an uncertain present with an undefined future as backdrop. In the novel's present, a single night marked by chapter headings showing the evening's passage of time, a hyperactive, disaffected, and distinctly unlikable twelve-year-old named Newell Ewing cavorts through Las Vegas in the company of a bizarrely codependent older boy named Kenny, an insecure, aspiring comic book artist. As Newell and Kenny wind their way from a casino floor to a 7-Eleven convenience store and ultimately toward a desert night punk rock concert, their story is sandwiched by the same evening's travails of several parallel lives - a young hustler named Ponyboy, his artificially enhanced stripper girlfriend Cheri Blossom, a runaway named Lestat and his drugged out pregnant traveling companion, Danger-Prone Daphney, a shaven-headed teenage runaway girl, and an older, moderately successful comic book artist improbably named Bing Beiderbixxe.

The author sets these disparate stories against a second time frame, three or four months in the future, focused on Newell's parents, Lincoln (an event salesman for one of the Vegas casinos) and Lorraine. In that near future, Newell is a missing child who disappeared on the night of that desert concert and has not been seen since. Bock examines the couple's deteriorating marital relationship and their conflicting ways of coping with Newell's unresolved disappearance - Lincoln through rational hope and immersion in his work, Lorraine through watching old video tapes of her son when she's not saving abandoned cats and taking on other lost causes.

Slowly but steadily, Bock leads his "beautiful children" toward their climactic convergence at the desert concert, where the facts of Newell's disappearance will presumably become clear and the knowledge denied to Lincoln and Lorraine will be bestowed upon the patient reader. It would be too much of a spoiler to describe how the author handles this reveal. Suffice to say, the resolution is wholly consistent with the rest of the story and the characters' troubled lives.

Bock's hometown of Las Vegas becomes, for him, the shining city on the hill, the irresistible magnet drawing toward it the runaways and other adolescent refuse of American society. His portrayal of these young people is blunt and, at times, disturbingly graphic. Yet he avoids moralizing about emotionally absent parents, uncaring schools, or a corrupting consumerist culture. Instead, he paints a tragic picture of what is without asking why. Are his characters overblown, little more than caricatures of street life for runaways? Probably not, more likely a compendium of types and instances brought together in a single place. Through it all, however, the movie in Cheri's head finally offers the author's own view, spoken in a wimpled nun's soothing voice:

"My children, you are human for your sins and God loves you for your humanity. It is your sins that make you beautiful. But this does not necessarily give us license to do whatever we wish. And here I want you to listen carefully. What I am about to say is very important." Regrettably for Cheri and the rest, that's where her imagined screenplay ends.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Really Happened 28 Oct 2008
By Katie B - Published on Amazon.com
I wanted so badly to love this book. I feel for the concept and dug in deep for the story. In the end, I felt like I was the one doing most of the work. Charles Bock had talent, but Beautiful Children sputtered as badly as the FBI-Mobile in the story.

Bock made me dizzy. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy multiple points of view and don't mind moments of confusion, but Bock drained me. One page of text in particular jumped into the heads of no less than four characters. It wasn't difficult to follow, but left me disconnected with everyone involved.

The one true sparkle of the novel was Bock's ability to describe the pain and aimlessness of Newell's parents. He got me there, reached me. For that, I believe Bock can deliver the goods with a different story.

I also thought his use of punctuation and sentence structure was puzzling. I realize it's his art and he deserves the freedom to flow without the restraints of accepted style. It didn't bother me, but if that sort of thing bugs you, don't read this book.

In the end, nothing really happened. The characters were interesting, but they didn't do anything. If he had condensed his 432 pages into 150 and then followed with story of interaction and consequence, Bock would have a winner.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Long stretches are good but also a struggle 6 Feb 2008
By Leslie Jenkins - Published on Amazon.com
I was very happy to see that two literary novels about Las Vegas have both been published recently (The Delivery Man by Joe McGinniss Jr and this one). What I liked about both of these books is that they were a sympathetic look at downtrodden people. They also are both wonderfully evocative in terms of descriptions of Las Vegas. Otherwise though, these books are really so different as to almost not be comparable. But about this book:

This is a very difficult book to get though and connect with. There are some great scenes but it never really comes together. There are many characters and plot lines (too many really) and the story of the central character, Newell, a missing 12 year-old, isn't enough to hold it together. It feels like the author over reached and tried to do too much. The result is some great scenes but an overall concoction that's not quite right.
51 of 67 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Our Critics Have Lost Their Minds 5 Mar 2008
By Tom Badyna - Published on Amazon.com
I don't pick up a new book but wanting to say "Five Stars," and wave it about, "Our book, our culture." I'm tired of feeling embarrassed for our newbie writers when compared to their European and South American counterparts. But the best I can say for Beautiful Children is it's a tour de force of puerility. I read it and couldn't but think that Mr. Bock is as absorbed as his characters in the culture of the video games, pornography, comic books and the screaming, screeching music described in this book. To think that a thirty-eight year old man had written this creeped me out, pure and simple. It didn't even read like an act of pedophilic voyeurism, which might be to Mr. Bock's moral credit, though not his literary one. The book has no heart, no vision, no ethos, no esthetic, nothing but a kind of cheap, copped morbidity - the stuff of a puberty stretching on interminably.

If this book were handed to me as a manuscript, I'd hand it back with mild pleasantries like "Okay - you've done the research ad nauseum, shown that you can imagine the second-by-second thoughts of an insipid character moving through a pointless minute of an inconsequential life, now tell a story, and, if it comes to you, toss in maybe one or two redeeming minutes." If I were feeling charitable, I might add, "Just as you seem to confuse dirty underwear for grit and truthtelling, you also confuse bad grammar for literary style."

Mr. Bock, no doubt about it, has an aversion to direct, Anglo-Saxon verbs, which, in this book, are outnumbered by nouns by a thousand to one. Also, and worse, he loads sentence after sentence with strings of descriptive clauses, most of them beginning with a present participle. I counted one stretch where twelve consecutive sentences were of such construction. It all gives the narrative the urgency of a slow doggie-paddle in a cesspool.

The book says nothing, is little more than faux nihilism sans courage, supported by presumptions of sap.

Our critics, our editors, our agents, have lost their freaking minds.
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