Beautiful Children Paperback – 13 Jan 2009
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"Bock's vision and voice create a fictional landscape as corruptly compelling as Vegas, and as beautiful as the illusions its characters cling to for survival. . . . One word: bravo."
"-The New York Times Book Review"
"An affecting story . . . truly powerful . . . "Beautiful Children "Dazzles its readers on almost every page. . . . [Charles Bock] knows how to tug at your heart, and he knows how to make you laugh out loud, often on the same page, sometimes in the same sentence."
"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."
"Exceptional . . . [Bock's] ability to share a deep understanding of America's million or so lost street kids and their tormented parents gives the book a whiff of greatness. . . . This novel deserves to be read more than once because of the extraordinary importance of its subject matter."
-"The Washington Post Book World""
"An anxious, angry, honest first novel filled with compassion and clarity. The language has a rhythm wholly its own-at moments it is stunning, near genius."
-A. M. Homes
"From start to finish, Bock never stops tantalizing the reader."
"-San Francisco Chronicle"
"Rich and compelling . . . Captures the hallucinogenic setting like a fever dream."
"-Los Angeles Times"
"One word: bravo."--"The New York Times Book Review"
"Truly powerful . . . "Beautiful Children" dazzles its readers on almost every page. . . . [Charles Bock] knows how to tug at your heart, and he knows how to make you laugh out loud, often on the same page, sometimes in the same sentence."--"Newsweek"
"Exceptional . . . This novel deserves to be read more than once because of the extraordinary importance of its subject matter."--"The Washington Post Book World"
"Magnificent . . . a hugely ambitious novel that succeeds . . . "Beautiful Children" manages to feel completely of its moment while remaining unaffected by literary trends. . . . Charles Bock is the real thing."--"The New Republic"
"A wildly satisfying and disturbing literary journey, led by an author of blazing talent."--"The Dallas Morning News"
"Wholly original--dirty, fast, and hypnotic. The sentences flicker and skip and whirl."--"Esquire"
"An anxious, angry, honest first novel filled with compassion and clarity . . . The language has a rhythm wholly its own--at moments it is stunning, near genius."--A. M. Homes
"From start to finish, Bock never stops tantalizing the reader."--"San Francisco Chronicle"
"Rich and compelling . . . captures the hallucinogenic setting like a fever dream."--"Los Angeles Times"
"From the Hardcover edition."
One word: bravo. "The New York Times Book Review"
Truly powerful . . . "Beautiful Children" dazzles its readers on almost every page. . . . [Charles Bock] knows how to tug at your heart, and he knows how to make you laugh out loud, often on the same page, sometimes in the same sentence. "Newsweek"
Exceptional . . . This novel deserves to be read more than once because of the extraordinary importance of its subject matter. "The Washington Post Book World"
Magnificent . . . a hugely ambitious novel that succeeds . . . "Beautiful Children" manages to feel completely of its moment while remaining unaffected by literary trends. . . . Charles Bock is the real thing. "The New Republic"
A wildly satisfying and disturbing literary journey, led by an author of blazing talent. "The Dallas Morning News"
Wholly original dirty, fast, and hypnotic. The sentences flicker and skip and whirl. "Esquire"
An anxious, angry, honest first novel filled with compassion and clarity . . . The language has a rhythm wholly its own at moments it is stunning, near genius. A. M. Homes
From start to finish, Bock never stops tantalizing the reader. "San Francisco Chronicle"
Rich and compelling . . . captures the hallucinogenic setting like a fever dream. "Los Angeles Times"
"From the Hardcover edition.""
Don't get lost in Vegas--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
The characters, who are set on paths that will converge at the end like some drugged out midnight showing of "Nashville", but with strippers, are types and constructs. There's no real point, it seems to me, to actually follow the mystery plot or to try to "care for" or "connect with" these characters. That would be like trying to care for or connect with a lamppost, (and less illuminating). The characters are pawns and markers moved around the Las Vegas board in order to allow us a full view of what this city is and what it can do to people.
Sad, darkly funny, ironic, sometimes tender, but always on the make, this is a marvelous change of pace book and a rewarding read.
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.