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Beautiful Children: A Novel Hardcover – January 22, 2008

2.8 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

This novel about Vegas has been the subject of considerable hype, including a full feature on Bock in the New York Times Magazine. Only a few reviewers found Bock’s debut Beautiful Children brilliant, but to elicit such a reaction, Bock needs the critical equivalent of a straight flush. He needs readers who are willing to accept pages and pages of explicit sexual description, an unorthodox narrative structure, unlikable characters, and an ending that may not satisfy the logic of the missing-person plot. For readers willing to accept all these, or for readers heavily invested in the book’s milieu, Beautiful Children will provide ample payoff. But many readers will find this crowded intersection of postmodern storytelling and postadolescent characters a mere full house.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (January 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066506
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066506
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #998,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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