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One Saturday night in Las Vegas, twelve-year-old Newell Ewing goes out with a friend and doesn't come home. In the aftermath of his disappearance, his mother, Lorraine, makes daily pilgrimages to her son's room and tortures herself with memories. Equally distraught, the boy's father, Lincoln, finds himself wanting to comfort his wife even as he yearns for solace, a loving One Saturday night in Las Vegas, twelve-year-old Newell Ewing goes out with a friend and doesn't come home. In the aftermath of his disappearance, his mother, Lorraine, makes daily pilgrimages to her son's room and tortures herself with memories. Equally distraught, the boy's father, Lincoln, finds himself wanting to comfort his wife even as he yearns for solace, a loving touch, any kind of intimacy. As the Ewings 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. The people of Beautiful Children are urban nomads; each with a past to hide and a pain to nurture, every one of them searching for salvation and barreling toward destruction, weaving their way through a neon underworld of sex, drugs, and the spinning wheels of chance. In this masterly debut novel, Charles Bock mixes incandescent prose with devious humor to capture Las Vegas with unprecedented scope and nuance and to provide a glimpse into a microcosm of modern America. Beautiful Children is an odyssey of heartache and redemption; heralding the arrival of a major new writer. Advance praise for Beautiful Children Charles Bock has delivered an anxious, angry, honest first novel filled with compassion and clarity. Beautiful Children is fast, violent, sexy;like a potentially dangerous ride;it could crash at any moment but never does. The language has a rhythm wholly its own;at moments it is stunning, near genius. This book is big and wild;it is as though Bock saved up everything for this moment. A major new talent. A. M. Homes Beautiful Children careens from the seedy to the beautiful, the domestic to the epic, all with huge and exacting heart. Jonathan Safran Foer Beautiful Children is the best first novel I've read in years;certainly the best first novel of our newborn century. Charles Bock has written a masterpiece: tragic, comic, sexy, chilling, far-reaching, and wise; at once an accusation and a consolation, and a lucid portrait of what is happening at the very heart of our culture, and what it means to be a young American today. –Sean Wilsey


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One Saturday night in Las Vegas, twelve-year-old Newell Ewing goes out with a friend and doesn't come home. In the aftermath of his disappearance, his mother, Lorraine, makes daily pilgrimages to her son's room and tortures herself with memories. Equally distraught, the boy's father, Lincoln, finds himself wanting to comfort his wife even as he yearns for solace, a loving One Saturday night in Las Vegas, twelve-year-old Newell Ewing goes out with a friend and doesn't come home. In the aftermath of his disappearance, his mother, Lorraine, makes daily pilgrimages to her son's room and tortures herself with memories. Equally distraught, the boy's father, Lincoln, finds himself wanting to comfort his wife even as he yearns for solace, a loving touch, any kind of intimacy. As the Ewings 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. The people of Beautiful Children are urban nomads; each with a past to hide and a pain to nurture, every one of them searching for salvation and barreling toward destruction, weaving their way through a neon underworld of sex, drugs, and the spinning wheels of chance. In this masterly debut novel, Charles Bock mixes incandescent prose with devious humor to capture Las Vegas with unprecedented scope and nuance and to provide a glimpse into a microcosm of modern America. Beautiful Children is an odyssey of heartache and redemption; heralding the arrival of a major new writer. Advance praise for Beautiful Children Charles Bock has delivered an anxious, angry, honest first novel filled with compassion and clarity. Beautiful Children is fast, violent, sexy;like a potentially dangerous ride;it could crash at any moment but never does. The language has a rhythm wholly its own;at moments it is stunning, near genius. This book is big and wild;it is as though Bock saved up everything for this moment. A major new talent. A. M. Homes Beautiful Children careens from the seedy to the beautiful, the domestic to the epic, all with huge and exacting heart. Jonathan Safran Foer Beautiful Children is the best first novel I've read in years;certainly the best first novel of our newborn century. Charles Bock has written a masterpiece: tragic, comic, sexy, chilling, far-reaching, and wise; at once an accusation and a consolation, and a lucid portrait of what is happening at the very heart of our culture, and what it means to be a young American today. –Sean Wilsey

30 review for Beautiful Children

  1. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    To get through a book where the "punk" characters say things like "cool beans" and "he's an Urkel" and "oh snap!"; where the strippers have hearts of gold and the former strippers grow up to be the best mothers; where the author unironically writes sentences like "the world was a pair of successfully removed breast implants"; and to still be engaged and even occasionally impressed by that book (when not prompted to delve into a long, exasperated rant about its many cliches) is a pretty big feat. To get through a book where the "punk" characters say things like "cool beans" and "he's an Urkel" and "oh snap!"; where the strippers have hearts of gold and the former strippers grow up to be the best mothers; where the author unironically writes sentences like "the world was a pair of successfully removed breast implants"; and to still be engaged and even occasionally impressed by that book (when not prompted to delve into a long, exasperated rant about its many cliches) is a pretty big feat. Depending upon which chapter I was reading, I would either give this book three stars or one star, so I just split the difference - with the last star heavily aided by the last two pages.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Oriana

    This wasn't bad or anything, but it was fairly unsatisfying, overall. It's a loosely connected story of a handful of characters with pretty messy lives, all fucking up and being fucked up in Las Vegas. It's definitely not a Swingers type of Las Vegas; it's the grittier, grimier, non-touristy side, which I really liked reading about. And it's a good cross-section of people too: old and young, rich and homeless, stripper and real-estate agent, crust punks and comic geeks. But the plot? Eh. It's no This wasn't bad or anything, but it was fairly unsatisfying, overall. It's a loosely connected story of a handful of characters with pretty messy lives, all fucking up and being fucked up in Las Vegas. It's definitely not a Swingers type of Las Vegas; it's the grittier, grimier, non-touristy side, which I really liked reading about. And it's a good cross-section of people too: old and young, rich and homeless, stripper and real-estate agent, crust punks and comic geeks. But the plot? Eh. It's not a plot-driven book, which I can appreciate, but in the absence of a strong plot, the characters have to be worth traveling all the way through three hundred pages with. And that's this book's major downfall. Although it's not what you'd think. Bock's characters are extremely detailed, but I think he tried a little too hard with them. You know how creative writing teachers will tell you to write down entire biographies for your characters, so you can get a better sense of who they are and what they would say and do? Well, it seems like Bock did that, but then instead of keeping that in a notebook by his computer as a reference, he just went ahead and crammed it all into the story. I mean, it's weird that I would complain that characters are too well drawn, but that's sort of what happens. We get these twenty-page digressions about one point in a character's history, or five pages on someone's motivations for getting a certain tattoo, or an entire chapter on someone's relationship with her mother. And the worst part is that, for all this over-characterization, his characters manage somehow to still seem really unoriginal. We've got the stripper who lets her deadbeat boyfriend convince her to get breast implants. We've got the fat, balding, nerdy d-list comic book artist who spends all his time masturbating or in a private chatroom with his handful of loser friends. We've got the rebellious punk teenager (who BTW, despite being one of the primary characters in the book, is somehow never given a fucking name, and is always referred to, distractingly and cumbersomely, as "the girl with the shaved head"). All these characters, despite, as I said, having their minutia and backstories and motives and personalities exhaustively detailed and catalogued, are pretty damn cliché. Knowing all the ways in which the comic book guy was rejected in high school and college does not make him unique; it just makes him more typical, you know? So that was too bad. And even worse, actually, is that often the characters are still inconsistent! They say things that you know they wouldn't, in slang they're too old or too young for, or with vocabulary they wouldn't have. They act in incongruous ways. They spend time on things that don't really make sense for them to be paying attention to. They don't live up to who they've been drawn to be. So why did I waste so many pages getting to know who I thought they were? Also the book was kind of jaggedly structured. The whole thing is leading up to one night when a twelve-year-old boy disappears, at a huge illegal punk show out in the desert. Over the three hundred pages, Bock maneuvers most of the various characters around so that they will all end up at this show together, but the timeline is not linear, so there's lots of stumbling around as you realize that this section must have happened months or years before the previous one, and trying to keep all the pieces together. Also he leans way too hard on italics to do his work for him. In any given conversation, about a third of the things people say will be ital, and not like word by word, but their entire sentence or phrase. Which is hard to read and also causes the emphasis to lose its power.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John

    It was by sheer force of will that I was able to finish this book. It's sad too because, like many here, I had high hopes for this much hyped debut. I don't believe that Bock's a lost cause by any means, but he's definitely got some refining to do before Random House or any other publisher so much as thinks about advancing him any more money. I primarily take issue with the unwieldy narrative, the disastrously underdeveloped characters, and Newell Ewing, the twelve year-old whose disappearance t It was by sheer force of will that I was able to finish this book. It's sad too because, like many here, I had high hopes for this much hyped debut. I don't believe that Bock's a lost cause by any means, but he's definitely got some refining to do before Random House or any other publisher so much as thinks about advancing him any more money. I primarily take issue with the unwieldy narrative, the disastrously underdeveloped characters, and Newell Ewing, the twelve year-old whose disappearance this novel revolves around. Simply put, I hate Newell and hope he is never found. The end.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Al

    I really wanted to like this book, which was favorably reviewed on the front page of the NYT Sunday Book Review. I didn't. Nearly every character is grotesque and pathetic; it's hard to believe that human beings could be as clueless as these people are. Maybe one or two, but all of them? It's difficult to get involved in a story where the characters are despicable AND their actions make no sense. It doesn't help that nearly every character is obsessed with sex, and many with pornography. Give m I really wanted to like this book, which was favorably reviewed on the front page of the NYT Sunday Book Review. I didn't. Nearly every character is grotesque and pathetic; it's hard to believe that human beings could be as clueless as these people are. Maybe one or two, but all of them? It's difficult to get involved in a story where the characters are despicable AND their actions make no sense. It doesn't help that nearly every character is obsessed with sex, and many with pornography. Give me a break. What passes for a plot revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a pre-teen boy in Las Vegas. The author, himself a Las Vegas native, is obviously concerned with runaway children and the book contains numerous statistics and other information about this problem. Unfortunately, the boy's motivations are not credible, and based on his actions, it seems more appropriate that his parents should have given him away, or at least not have been so distraught when he disappeared. He's not nice, to say the least. If I had read the author's acknowledgments first, I might have been warned away from reading the whole book. What can you say about an author who thanks his wife for her help by calling her "the best f***ing wife in the world"? (He didn't use asterisks.) Well, he went to Bennington, several writing camps, etc. Obviously he's trendy; maybe I'm just getting crusty.

  5. 5 out of 5

    LaDonna

    I don't know what, exactly, I expected when I started this book, but it certainly wasn't a slow-moving, leaden story. None of the characters in this book are likeable, and they are all so stiff, it's hard to sympathize with them at all. It doesn't help that the cast is so huge... new characters are being introduced almost up until the very end. The author seems to treat his protagonists flippantly, and he doesn't even bother to give one of the characters a name, calling her simply "The girl with I don't know what, exactly, I expected when I started this book, but it certainly wasn't a slow-moving, leaden story. None of the characters in this book are likeable, and they are all so stiff, it's hard to sympathize with them at all. It doesn't help that the cast is so huge... new characters are being introduced almost up until the very end. The author seems to treat his protagonists flippantly, and he doesn't even bother to give one of the characters a name, calling her simply "The girl with the shaved head." I found the book difficult to read, mostly because I just didn't care what was happening. The storylines are convoluted, jumping back and forth in time, but not in any coherent way. You'd think it would be hard to find a story set in Las Vegas and featuring a big cast of punks, runaways and strippers boring. But Beautiful Children is boring and tired, and I'm so happy to be done with it! If you have to work this hard to get through a novel, you'd hope there would be some payoff somewhere. But I'm just feeling disgusted that I forced myself to finish it. There are so many other, better, books I could have been reading!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kerfe

    I never thought I would be listing a book I would rate a "2" because usually I just don't finish a book I'd put in that category. And though I skimmed large chunks of this one, finding some parts almost unreadable and without any clear value to the story(s), I did finish. But I would not recommend anyone else do the same, despite all its glowing reviews. My first reaction at the start of the book was: way too many writing classes and workshops, could use an editor with some sharp scissors. It got I never thought I would be listing a book I would rate a "2" because usually I just don't finish a book I'd put in that category. And though I skimmed large chunks of this one, finding some parts almost unreadable and without any clear value to the story(s), I did finish. But I would not recommend anyone else do the same, despite all its glowing reviews. My first reaction at the start of the book was: way too many writing classes and workshops, could use an editor with some sharp scissors. It got a little better, but then it got way worse. It's like the author took all his ideas for stories and just threw them together. He did try to make connections, and the multiple-time-frame-point-of-view book can work, but there needs to be some underlying unity, and I just didn't ever feel it pull together in any meaningful way. Too much of the writing is Bock saying "Look at me!"--it creates a wall between the writing and the story he is trying to tell. And just what IS that story anyway? I assume the book is supposed to be about runaways; there's a chapter near the end that describes various runaways which, while heartfelt and well-intentioned, feels totally false and disconnected from any of the story lines that he has been following previously. There is also information about runaway hotlines, etc, at the end of the book. And I think there's a good book about runaways in here. But there's also one about (among other things) the state of young manhood in America, the sex industry, clueless and fractured family relations, love and/or marriage, parenthood, exploitation, loss, disconnectedness, alienation, and the death of the American Dream. And maybe even one about a pawnshop in Las Vegas. The most compelling characters/stories were not running away, but running in place, in circles, trying to work things out in the context of the lives they had--Lorraine and Kenny. And I thought the best writing in the book was about them as well. Lorraine's riff about the conflicting advice of parenting experts, her ruminations on her own parenting, were moving and true. And the section describing how Kenny would remember the defining action of his life through the lens of a multiplicity of possible future lives was equally wonderful. This book is a mess. However, if Bock can focus and think smaller, he just might have something.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I feel like a sucker for having bought this. It's not very good. For Christ's sake, there are puns! I can't remember the exact phrasing, but one part read something like: "I was being figurative, she said. To which Ponyboy responded with his middle figurative." And his use of parlance – and particularly the use of the word "like" – is terrible and often embarrassing. The prose is all playful and buoyant and alliterative, and seems to undermine the subject matter. It's like a crystal chandelier in I feel like a sucker for having bought this. It's not very good. For Christ's sake, there are puns! I can't remember the exact phrasing, but one part read something like: "I was being figurative, she said. To which Ponyboy responded with his middle figurative." And his use of parlance – and particularly the use of the word "like" – is terrible and often embarrassing. The prose is all playful and buoyant and alliterative, and seems to undermine the subject matter. It's like a crystal chandelier in a flophouse, if that makes any sense. Anyway, this book kind of sucked. Sorry.

  8. 5 out of 5

    George

    I first heard about this book in a Times profile of Bock. A big deal was made of how Charles Bock took 11 years to write this novel. This fact stuck with me throughout reading the book, as so much of it seems to have been so crafted and re-crafted to the point of being overwritten. There are references to very recent events, so it feels like he just kept going at it, revising, and refusing to let it go. There are some truly fantastic parts of this book. Some of the subsections of the book's 7 ch I first heard about this book in a Times profile of Bock. A big deal was made of how Charles Bock took 11 years to write this novel. This fact stuck with me throughout reading the book, as so much of it seems to have been so crafted and re-crafted to the point of being overwritten. There are references to very recent events, so it feels like he just kept going at it, revising, and refusing to let it go. There are some truly fantastic parts of this book. Some of the subsections of the book's 7 chapters could stand alone as terrific short stories, particularly one section about a character's time in a pawn shop (which I found interesting, as Charles Bock's family has run pawn shops in Vegas for the past 30 years). Las Vegas is presented so realistically and sincerely that you really feel the sweaty heat of the city and get a great sense of what the city is like for its true residents, behind the Disney-esque center stage that is only seen by tourists. The disparate stories of the characters presented in the book seem to have been cobbled together in an attempt to create some sort of Altman/PT Anderson scenario. Ultimately, the stories failed to really come together for me, though there were some very strong characterizations in here (Lorraine and Lincoln, and Cheri). Also, there's some really terrible sex writing in here, like a several page section about Lincoln realizing that he and his wife had become distant, when she stopped putting "it" in her mouth. And I really think writers should be forbidden to refer to the vagina as "her sex." As flawed as this book was, there was something incredibly compelling about it. This was clearly a labor of love for Bock, and while you can tell his devotion to the characterization of Las Vegas, you can't help but think of the creative process over 11 years and how difficult it really can be to finally let go of your art.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Maybe this isn't the right time in my life, but I couldn't read this book. One night, I had trouble getting to sleep after reading several chapters. The subject matter is extremely disturbing--especially the depiction of the subculture of runaways living off the Strip. I finally gave up on page 350. I also had trouble with Bock's writing. At times, the language is beautiful, but other sections read like a grad student experimenting with different devices. I could almost hear the workshop discuss Maybe this isn't the right time in my life, but I couldn't read this book. One night, I had trouble getting to sleep after reading several chapters. The subject matter is extremely disturbing--especially the depiction of the subculture of runaways living off the Strip. I finally gave up on page 350. I also had trouble with Bock's writing. At times, the language is beautiful, but other sections read like a grad student experimenting with different devices. I could almost hear the workshop discussion he must have received upon submission. The guy at the bookstore called it a "failed debut novel." It was a valiant attempt, he said, but Bock tried to take on too much in this novel: he needed to start small and then expand in subsequent books. I agree. I'm not giving up on Bock entirely. He is definitely talented, and I am eager to see what he does in his next book. I may even give Beautiful Children another try, years from now, when I'm feeling particularly desensitized. I picked up this book for two reasons: 1) The NY Times gave it a fabulous review, and 2) Bock, like my husband, grew up in Las Vegas, and they're about the same age (Bock is a few years younger). Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s was a very different place than it is now; it used to be a small town and everyone seemingly knew each other back then. I wondered if they knew or knew of each other, but my husband had never heard of Charles Bock. Nonetheless, I was intrigued to read a story set in Las Vegas written by someone who knew it intimately. In that regard, Bock brilliantly paints a vivid picture. Like my husband, he may have moved away, but he hasn't really escaped. Las Vegas left an everlasting impression.

  10. 5 out of 5

    sil

    Picked it up at the local bookstore, read it in a day. The prose was decent and a couple of characters had a compelling depth, but it felt like Bock was trying a little too hard to be interesting. Seriously, if I want a methed-out porn-delivery guy, a mouthy preteen with ADD, a stripper with a heart of gold and hollowed-out nipples (to hold the sparklers, natch), and a sweaty comic book author all caught up in parallel narratives, I'll read a Carl Hiaasen novel. In fact, this felt like a Hiaase Picked it up at the local bookstore, read it in a day. The prose was decent and a couple of characters had a compelling depth, but it felt like Bock was trying a little too hard to be interesting. Seriously, if I want a methed-out porn-delivery guy, a mouthy preteen with ADD, a stripper with a heart of gold and hollowed-out nipples (to hold the sparklers, natch), and a sweaty comic book author all caught up in parallel narratives, I'll read a Carl Hiaasen novel. In fact, this felt like a Hiaasen book, but lacking his humor and trying instead for pathos, a sense of innocence lost or nonexistent. I'd have to say that in this, Beautiful Children fails, leaving me only with a neon blur of caricatured struggle and the worst kind of sentimentalism. Basically, this shouldn't have been Bock's first novel. By which I mean it shouldn't have been published, at least not without some serious editorial guidance. Bock shows promise, but his writing lacks purpose and focus, and the larger part of this book belongs on the cutting room floor.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Susanne

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Why can't you give a book 0 stars? Or negative stars, for that matter? Or a little icon the shows a DAGGER GOING THROUGH A PERSON'S HEAD WITH LOTS AND LOTS OF BLOOD SPURTING OUT? The New York Times reviewed Beautiful Children TWICE and ran a long profile of Mr. Bock which included pictures of his parents (??), and made a big deal of how dude is friends with Jonathan Safran Foer and Rick Moody, and how this is his first book and he's 37 and that is SOOOOOOO old. Sigh. When did the Grey Lady turn i Why can't you give a book 0 stars? Or negative stars, for that matter? Or a little icon the shows a DAGGER GOING THROUGH A PERSON'S HEAD WITH LOTS AND LOTS OF BLOOD SPURTING OUT? The New York Times reviewed Beautiful Children TWICE and ran a long profile of Mr. Bock which included pictures of his parents (??), and made a big deal of how dude is friends with Jonathan Safran Foer and Rick Moody, and how this is his first book and he's 37 and that is SOOOOOOO old. Sigh. When did the Grey Lady turn into Paris Hilton? The book is set in Las Vegas, and concerns a missing kid--which would normally be enough to pluck this old girl's heartstrings!--and it's meant to be a sort of kaleidoscopic view of the city and maybe Humanity, but mostly it's just a lot of schlocky, shoddy prose, and pointless time jumps, and characters you don't care about, and whoops, I JUST STUCK A KNIFE IN MY BRAIN. Oh, and you never find out what happened to the kid. Because that would be too obvious. Or something.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael Neill

    I came to Beautiful Children in between reading two Cormac McCarthy novels, Blood Meridian and The Road. And while Bock [full disclosure: I know him] and McCarthy are as different as two writers can be, they have this in common: Their characters inhabit an America that devours its children. In fact, Bock's Vegas occupies a sort of halfway point in the timeline between Blood Meridian's bloody Old West and the post-Apocalyptic ruin of The Road. And there are moments in Beautiful Children that are I came to Beautiful Children in between reading two Cormac McCarthy novels, Blood Meridian and The Road. And while Bock [full disclosure: I know him] and McCarthy are as different as two writers can be, they have this in common: Their characters inhabit an America that devours its children. In fact, Bock's Vegas occupies a sort of halfway point in the timeline between Blood Meridian's bloody Old West and the post-Apocalyptic ruin of The Road. And there are moments in Beautiful Children that are so vividly described as to seem not written, but filmed and transmitted directly to the brain. Beautiful Children isn't beach reading, and it won't make you want to hop on a plane to Vegas, but it's a terrific book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carsten

    I am still reading this book, but so far i am quite impressed. i really love the character development and the language. I saw some reviews that didn't like the book, that couldn't find the las vegas in the novel, but while i think there is quite a bit about las vegas in the story the city is not the main character of this story, it is the background, but that background could also have been LA, Orlando, or Phoenix. this is just a little thought along the way ... as i said i am still reading it, I am still reading this book, but so far i am quite impressed. i really love the character development and the language. I saw some reviews that didn't like the book, that couldn't find the las vegas in the novel, but while i think there is quite a bit about las vegas in the story the city is not the main character of this story, it is the background, but that background could also have been LA, Orlando, or Phoenix. this is just a little thought along the way ... as i said i am still reading it, but so far i have a similar feeling reading the book that i had when i first read american psycho, the story just has this drive that makes me keep on reading it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael Shilling

    Charles Bock can write well, so well that he has no excuse for several one-dimensional characters that no amount of detailed back-story can save from irrelevance, a very stock treatment of strippers and modern-primitive runaways, simplified cause-and-effect character development, and a focal point - this missing kid - who remains a complete cipher. That can't be the point. Is that the point? That said, the book is very fun to read, amazingly so considering that there's almost no plot, and what f Charles Bock can write well, so well that he has no excuse for several one-dimensional characters that no amount of detailed back-story can save from irrelevance, a very stock treatment of strippers and modern-primitive runaways, simplified cause-and-effect character development, and a focal point - this missing kid - who remains a complete cipher. That can't be the point. Is that the point? That said, the book is very fun to read, amazingly so considering that there's almost no plot, and what forward motion exists is fractured into moments of hyper-epiphany and emotional stardust.

  15. 4 out of 5

    christa

    According to a New York Times Magazine feature on Charles Bock, it took the sadist 11 years to write his first novel Beautiful Children. Then, 406ish pages of the hardcover later, Charles Bock gives a shining example of why one should not spend 11 years on one book. Mainly, this beast is full of words. The story centers on the disappearance of 12-year-old smart ass rapscallion Newell Ewing. He spends a night out in his hometown of Las Vegas with his creepy older friend Kenny, a social misfit comic According to a New York Times Magazine feature on Charles Bock, it took the sadist 11 years to write his first novel Beautiful Children. Then, 406ish pages of the hardcover later, Charles Bock gives a shining example of why one should not spend 11 years on one book. Mainly, this beast is full of words. The story centers on the disappearance of 12-year-old smart ass rapscallion Newell Ewing. He spends a night out in his hometown of Las Vegas with his creepy older friend Kenny, a social misfit comic-drawing savant, and never comes home. His story is told over the course of one night. Then there are other characters: his parents, a comic book artist, a stripper who can start her fake boobs on fire and her money-grubbing idea-man boyfriend, a nameless bald high school girl who is totally emo. These characters get a back story and in some cases an omniscient glimpse at what happens to them in the future. Some of these characters encounter Newell. Some don’t. Some of these characters pop up in the peripheral of another’s story. Some don’t. This book is obvious and way overwritten, the words are self conscious of themselves. Every scene and every person in this novel is described in a very micro way. It becomes like teeth that are artificially whitened to an almost-blue, or a steak that marinated four days too long. It’s a term paper that the overachieving student starts on the first day of class, and hones every day until the last, all without ever deciding on a thesis. It is a book that is good because of the coddling that each letter received. But it is a book that without that coddling wouldn’t be good at all. Typically in a book that is wordy and huge and detailed, I will dog-ear pages with sentences or ideas that I like. A book this dense should have been origami’d to death; I noted just one section mid-book about the porno film industry. Almost all of the characters are interesting and the scenes are interesting. But more than telling a story-story, this novel is more like a video camera dropped from the sky that started recording, and then suddenly just stopped recording. The book’s jacket says it all in one sentence: “One Saturday night in Las Vegas, 12-year-old Newell Ewing goes out with a friend and doesn’t come home.” Early in the story it’s explained that he wasn’t kidnapped, he is considered a runaway. And that’s it. No answers. No glimpses of 20-years later. There is no finale, no resolution, no better or worse. It isn’t satisfying at all.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    From all the hype and its inclusion on the NYT 100 Notable Books of 2008 list, I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, it failed to meet them. The novel contains some great parts and snippets of beautifully written passages which stand out in a narrative that otherwise is weighed down with too many disparate characters and storylines that Boch should have eliminated. The book’s redeeming factor is that there are a few compelling storylines that keep the reader involved enough to wa From all the hype and its inclusion on the NYT 100 Notable Books of 2008 list, I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, it failed to meet them. The novel contains some great parts and snippets of beautifully written passages which stand out in a narrative that otherwise is weighed down with too many disparate characters and storylines that Boch should have eliminated. The book’s redeeming factor is that there are a few compelling storylines that keep the reader involved enough to want to find out what happens to the characters. The book focuses on the disappearance of 12-year-old Newell Ewing, and the dissolution of his parents' marriage as they struggle to come to terms with losing him. But I never understood why Newell ran away or really believe that he would. His character can be summed up as being a spoiled brat, mildly picked on, who is disrespectful of his parents and perhaps realizing that he is attracted to the same sex. In other words, he is not too different from many other privileged teenagers.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I would liken the experience of reading this to being on a Tilt-A-Whirl that has gone on the loose: spinning feverishly in one direction, anxious pausing, spinning a bit in the other, and some heading very much off track, into, like, the log flume. I will echo criticism that Bock would have benefited from an editor and perhaps at the end avoided just about plainly stating the intended meaning of it all. Some of the pop / internet culture references were heavy-handed (I am thinking specifically o I would liken the experience of reading this to being on a Tilt-A-Whirl that has gone on the loose: spinning feverishly in one direction, anxious pausing, spinning a bit in the other, and some heading very much off track, into, like, the log flume. I will echo criticism that Bock would have benefited from an editor and perhaps at the end avoided just about plainly stating the intended meaning of it all. Some of the pop / internet culture references were heavy-handed (I am thinking specifically of referencing this .jpg). While some of the character development was strong (Kenny, the shaved-head girl), others came across as cartoonish and underdeveloped (Newell in particular just came across as a stereotype of an ADD-affected youth.) But all that aside, I found this difficult to put down! I was highly entertained & will likely read whatever Mr. Bock decides to lay down next.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Becca

    I had big expectations for this one. Must say, that because it's big and unweildy and even ambitious doesn't make it a good novel. This is such a tough book to plod through and it delivers so little in the way of emotional impact or tension. I expected to see Las Vegas come alive and to feel something but it fell flat. I admit I haven't finished it...struggling to but will push through. I hope the ending pays off but I'm not so confident about that. Not sure what the hype is all about with this I had big expectations for this one. Must say, that because it's big and unweildy and even ambitious doesn't make it a good novel. This is such a tough book to plod through and it delivers so little in the way of emotional impact or tension. I expected to see Las Vegas come alive and to feel something but it fell flat. I admit I haven't finished it...struggling to but will push through. I hope the ending pays off but I'm not so confident about that. Not sure what the hype is all about with this one. Odd.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Judy Churchill

    This was an extremely difficult book to read. It starts off with one twelve year old boy going out with a friend and not returning home. The setting is Las Vegas which lends a surreal hue to the story but nothing as strange as the other lost kids living on the street. It switches from one troubled youth to another but don't get me wrong. This is not a sympathetic story of all the poor homeless children but a stark, brutal look at these kids and the life they are living. Bizarre is a word which c This was an extremely difficult book to read. It starts off with one twelve year old boy going out with a friend and not returning home. The setting is Las Vegas which lends a surreal hue to the story but nothing as strange as the other lost kids living on the street. It switches from one troubled youth to another but don't get me wrong. This is not a sympathetic story of all the poor homeless children but a stark, brutal look at these kids and the life they are living. Bizarre is a word which comes to mind. It took a lot of perseverance to finish this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    Overrated, unrewarding, atrocious.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mary McCoy

    By turns harrowing, profane, pornographic, and tragic, Beautiful Children is not for the faint of heart. But, as a book about the darkest corners of Las Vegas, populated by a cast of disaffected and irreparably damaged urban nomads, how could it be anything else? At the book's center is the disappearance of 12-year-old Newell Ewing, and the dissolution of his parents' marriage as they struggle to come to terms with their loss. The book's narrative jumps around in time, gradually revealing the eve By turns harrowing, profane, pornographic, and tragic, Beautiful Children is not for the faint of heart. But, as a book about the darkest corners of Las Vegas, populated by a cast of disaffected and irreparably damaged urban nomads, how could it be anything else? At the book's center is the disappearance of 12-year-old Newell Ewing, and the dissolution of his parents' marriage as they struggle to come to terms with their loss. The book's narrative jumps around in time, gradually revealing the events of what may be Newell's last night, as well as the aftermath of his disappearance. Pieced in as well are other characters' stories: a stripper named Cheri Blossom, her wounded and sinister boyfriend, Ponyboy, and a host of teenage runaways living on the streets of Vegas, including, most memorably, Lestat, a gaunt and delicate boy who has taken a pregnant runaway under his wing. Gradually, the shadowy social network that holds these characters together becomes evident. The porno book store where Newell's father buys videos receives its deliveries from the former teen hustler turned porn courier, who goes home to sponge off of his stripper girlfriend. She goes to work, and performs a lap dance for the overweight, unloved comic book artist, who earlier that day, signed books and chatted with Newell and his gawky, older friend, Kenny. We are all connected, however uncomfortable those connections may be. Whatever their demons, Cheri, Ponyboy, and the Ewings all exercise some control over their place in the world. The runaways don't, and when Bock turns to them the book is at its most heart-breaking. In scenes that might turn exploitative and voyeuristic in another writer's hands, Bock unfolds the day-to-day survival of these street kids, and the things that keep them trapped there, with great empathy. Also well-handled is Bock's portrayal of Kenny, a sexually confused teenage boy who clings to the edges of the visible world. An aunt who takes him in, artistic talent, his friendship with Newell are the only things keeping him from joining the ranks of the lost children, yet he doesn't fit anywhere else either. In the scenes describing his night out on the town with Newell, he's at once an outcast, a goony, unwanted mentor, a predator, a chum, but always on the verge of breaking into pieces. Bock allows him to hold together, and fall apart, in a way that's frustratingly open-ended, but also feels very real. The book suffers some from its dizzying narrative structure, and more from rambling interior monologues and occasional prose freak-outs that tend to take the reader away from the plight of Bock's characters. However, it's these characters that ultimately bring the book back to earth -- each one is a fully realized masterpiece, and their stories and personal horrors make Beautiful Children a staggering and unforgettable work.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    I liked and admired this book more than I loved it. It has aspirations to be a pretty big investigation and indictment of a culture that chews up dreamers and spits them out, but most of the characters are too thinly drawn to deepen it to that level. Instead, it's a very readable story about connections and loss, exploitation and love, fumbles, mistakes, accidents, viciousness, and hope, told in a non-linear structure that in a way is like reading reassembled fragments of a shattered mirror. In I liked and admired this book more than I loved it. It has aspirations to be a pretty big investigation and indictment of a culture that chews up dreamers and spits them out, but most of the characters are too thinly drawn to deepen it to that level. Instead, it's a very readable story about connections and loss, exploitation and love, fumbles, mistakes, accidents, viciousness, and hope, told in a non-linear structure that in a way is like reading reassembled fragments of a shattered mirror. In this case, the mirror is reflecting the neon and grit of Las Vegas, itself a major player in the story. You can read a better summary of the plot and characters in a number of places, but the story centers on an adolescent boy, undergoing the usual rebellion, who disappears into the night and is never heard from again, and the people who cross paths with him and those around him. Although a major chunk of the story centers on a stripper with bigger aspirations whose boyfriend, a bike messenger for a porn distributor, tries to exploit her dreams in numerous ways and ends up tragically ruining multiple lives, the most moving story here is that is the missing boy's parents, and how they try to cope with the void of his loss. I found the exploration of the parents' pain moving and real, while the exploration of the pain of the stripper and other characters sucked into the porn vortex struck me in a way I'm pretty sure the author didn't intend. The only time some of these emotionally deadened characters can feel desire is when viewing the worst kind of exploitative pornography, or the inhuman deformity of the stripper's body, and it's clear we're supposed to see how awful this is. But Bock describes these things in such explicit detail, trying to show the humanity beneath, the pain behind the eyes of the owner of the giant boobs, that these are some of the most, well, stirring passages in the book, which itself ends up producing an almost pornographic effect. Still, it's a pretty accomplished book, and I very much appreciated that though you learn a lot about the characters and what happens to them, ends are not tied up neatly and many mysteries remain.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    "I want them to see me dying. That way, they'll know I'm alive." Beautiful Children is the kaleidoscopic tale of Las Vegas' dark underbelly, a place where underneath the lights, glitz and glamour lurks a bevy of downtrodden and desperate. Bock centers the bulk of his novel around one particular Saturday night - the night that twelve-year-old Newell Ewing disappeared, leaving behind only a single shoe abandoned in the middle of the desert. Starting with the story of Newell's disappearance, the nov "I want them to see me dying. That way, they'll know I'm alive." Beautiful Children is the kaleidoscopic tale of Las Vegas' dark underbelly, a place where underneath the lights, glitz and glamour lurks a bevy of downtrodden and desperate. Bock centers the bulk of his novel around one particular Saturday night - the night that twelve-year-old Newell Ewing disappeared, leaving behind only a single shoe abandoned in the middle of the desert. Starting with the story of Newell's disappearance, the novel swirls out to include the stories of runaway street kids, strippers, washed-up comic book artists, seedy pornographers, angry teenagers and casino executives. Their stories are grim to say the least, but Bock's intent appeared more cautionary than anything - to show the paths each took to wind up here, rather than simply dwelling on the dark details of the present. Beautiful Children is a thoroughly impressive debut and a pretty great read, though a painful one to say the least. And I suppose that would be my largest criticism of the novel: it's almost suffocating in its gloominess. The characters are terrible to one another and utterly self-destructive, and several scenes are so cruel and so graphic that I had to force myself to read on. In several respects, Beautiful Children reminded me a lot of Requiem for a Dream; it's a story that's true and important and often overlooked, but it sears its image onto your eyelids, turns your stomach into knots and and makes you relieved when its finally over. In short, it's a great book by a new talent, and though I'm glad I read it I don't think I'll ever go back for seconds. In fact, I'm not sure I even want to be in the same room with this book ever again.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    I started this novel, and put it down about 150 pages later. This was approximately two weeks ago, and I do not feel particularly compelled to return to it. This lack of feeling on my part is especially disappointing to me, given the author's coverage in the New York Times Magazine (who doesn't love an underdog?), as well as the book's cover-review in the Times book section, and the fact that I bought it in hardcover (beautiful jacket, by the way: uncoated stock, great typography, and a judiciou I started this novel, and put it down about 150 pages later. This was approximately two weeks ago, and I do not feel particularly compelled to return to it. This lack of feeling on my part is especially disappointing to me, given the author's coverage in the New York Times Magazine (who doesn't love an underdog?), as well as the book's cover-review in the Times book section, and the fact that I bought it in hardcover (beautiful jacket, by the way: uncoated stock, great typography, and a judicious use of... sparkles!). The writing is weird in a way that I'm not sure I dislike. I do appreciate that I'm reading what feels like a new and singular voice, and Bock does a bang-up job on setting (his vision of Las Vegas is startling and eerie), but... The novel is beset with, for me, what might be a ruinous amount of distance. It is cold, cold, cold. And at the sentence-to-sentence level, this coldness is especially evident in bizarre locutions such as "Reflective lenses of designer sunglasses danced with light." Who is wearing these sunglasses? And what is up with the paucity of real description? There's a creepy disassociation going on (yes, I get that this is exactly part of the book's project... the disaffectedness of American Youth, the cold, inhuman materialism of American Culture, the Baudrillardian simulacrum of reality that is Las Vegas, and so forth), but forgive my audacity for saying so, this is simply bad writing, such as I might find in one of my undergraduate's work. And these kinds of sentences abound. We'll see, but the prospect of my seeing this novel through looks grim (let me note though, that I have 1000 times more respect for this book than for The Monsters of Templeton, which I also just read).

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this review, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.) This is one of two books I've recently read that I didn't care for enough to finish, but weren't exactly terrible so didn't want to include them in my snarky "Too Awful to Finish" series of essays; it's the high-profile Beautiful Children by Charles Bock, which I actually read electronically because (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this review, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.) This is one of two books I've recently read that I didn't care for enough to finish, but weren't exactly terrible so didn't want to include them in my snarky "Too Awful to Finish" series of essays; it's the high-profile Beautiful Children by Charles Bock, which I actually read electronically because of his publisher Random House giving away the digital version recently as an online promotion. It's a supposedly edgy and gritty look at the various losers and junkies that make up the underclass of society, set in this case in Las Vegas but really examining the wrong side of the tracks of any large city; but I'm warning you, this book is "edgy and gritty" the same way a movie on the Lifetime Channel is edgy and gritty, and those who are not necessarily shocked by Valerie Bertinelli playing an abused wife are sure to greet Beautiful Children mostly with disgruntled yawns. Like, did you know that sometimes people are actually forced to sell personal possessions to make ends meet? Did you know that many teen boys enjoy reefer and x-rated comics? Did you know that some people enjoy having sex with other people without even knowing their names? If your answer is yes, then you're probably going to want to skip Beautiful Children; and if your answer is no, dude, seriously, you are not reading my other reviews closely enough. Out of 10: 5.6

  26. 5 out of 5

    Don

    I think this book has been seriously overrated (although not by the members of this website!). The writing is overdone, particularly at the beginning--a first-time novelist showing what he can do. Over time, this settles down, but throughout the novel his writing verges on the excessive. I read this book immediately after reading Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises", and the contrast between Hemingway's spare writing style and Bock's excess is startling. I also found it difficult to identify with the I think this book has been seriously overrated (although not by the members of this website!). The writing is overdone, particularly at the beginning--a first-time novelist showing what he can do. Over time, this settles down, but throughout the novel his writing verges on the excessive. I read this book immediately after reading Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises", and the contrast between Hemingway's spare writing style and Bock's excess is startling. I also found it difficult to identify with the characters, until near the end of the book, none of them seemed particularly sympathetic or came to life. A couple of moments really work. Towards the end, there is a description of one minor character's (Lestat) existence on the streets, which really made me feel something of the coarseness of the life. Even here, however, Bock creates a character that doesn't really come to life. He makes no effort to explain how this guy came to run away from home; oddly, he periodically calls home and talks to his mother, tells her about one of his street friends, gets advice. So why not go home? Inexplicable. The story, such as it is, centers on the disappearance of a 12-year old Las Vegas boy named Newell. The act of his disappearing isn't revealed until the very end, and even at that point, the reader is left in the dark as to what eventually might have happened to him. The problem I had with Newell as the fulcrum of this story is that the kid is, until nearly the end, totally unsympathetic; he's a hyperactive, obnoxious, rebellious child, whose every act in the book is offensive. It's hard to muster any sympathy, or even suspense, over this character.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This is the hot new book by a Las Vegas author. It's supposed to be the seminal Vegas book of our generation. I didn't find it particularly Vegas-focused as I found it focused on parents and children. The story is about a group of interconnected people who occupy a range of positions in society. They're connected by all knowing a boy who disappears. There are intense, heartbreaking ruminations on both the previous lives and the aftereffects of the boy's disappearance, as well as some of the exte This is the hot new book by a Las Vegas author. It's supposed to be the seminal Vegas book of our generation. I didn't find it particularly Vegas-focused as I found it focused on parents and children. The story is about a group of interconnected people who occupy a range of positions in society. They're connected by all knowing a boy who disappears. There are intense, heartbreaking ruminations on both the previous lives and the aftereffects of the boy's disappearance, as well as some of the extenuating circumstances that lead the characters to be where they are at the moment they report their lives. Beautiful Children doesn't so much seek to explain why the boy disappears as it seeks to lay out the disparate characters, lay out their thoughts and feelings, and let you decide how you feel about what happens. A word of warning: there is very little judgment in this book. The author simply tells what happens and what the characters feel about what happens, then lets you judge. The book includes porn star tryouts, vivid scenes of drugs and homelessness, irritating teen behavior that makes you want to go slap a young person just so you'll feel some relief, and a rape. It's all up front and very personal, because you get to know all of the characters very well, and you want the best, even for the scumbags. This book isn't for the faint of heart or the immature.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Sigh, well, I read this for a book club and I have to be honest, it was sort of one of those books I had to make myself read. I liked parts of it a lot, and he is a good writer. I hated the kid, Newell. To be honest, I didn't really see why he would run away. That part didn't ring very true to me, but maybe the point is that you never really know and sometimes people run away for trivial reasons? I do feel though that the impact of that issue in the story (the runaways thing) would have been str Sigh, well, I read this for a book club and I have to be honest, it was sort of one of those books I had to make myself read. I liked parts of it a lot, and he is a good writer. I hated the kid, Newell. To be honest, I didn't really see why he would run away. That part didn't ring very true to me, but maybe the point is that you never really know and sometimes people run away for trivial reasons? I do feel though that the impact of that issue in the story (the runaways thing) would have been stronger had it been the main point, had the book not included, say, Cheri or Bing. (Ha, Bing Cherry, I just thought of that.) I thought the passage where Lestat is thinking about runaways and walking through the concert in the desert was great, very moving, but beyond that I didn't feel a lot of resonance with the runaway thing. Also, parts of the book felt, well, cheesy (there's this whole thing where Newell is thinking about "how the hand felt on his leg, and worse, how it made him feel"... like, hello, blah. Anyway, I liked it alright just because parts were good and some of the characters were interesting but it probably won't stick with me much. Kind of a shame.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Charles Bock does a good job, for the most part, of juggling multiple characters, plotlines and points in time -- I say "for the most part" because the comic-book artist is nearly forgotten in the novel's second half -- but the book falls apart in its voices. Bock attempts third-person narrative adopting the voice and viewpoint of each character, but only Ponyboy's sections are successful in this regard. The other characters lack distinctive voices -- perhaps because their personalities are less Charles Bock does a good job, for the most part, of juggling multiple characters, plotlines and points in time -- I say "for the most part" because the comic-book artist is nearly forgotten in the novel's second half -- but the book falls apart in its voices. Bock attempts third-person narrative adopting the voice and viewpoint of each character, but only Ponyboy's sections are successful in this regard. The other characters lack distinctive voices -- perhaps because their personalities are less fully drawn, and rely more heavily on stereotypes -- and often have viewpoints that seem inappropriate for them. This is especially true in Newell's sections. Bock never figures out how to consistently adopt the viewpoint of an adolescent boy. "Beautfiul Children" is not terrible. The plots are compelling, and make for propulsive reading. The writing, however, is littered with jokes well past their prime and phrases one is more used to seeing on the Internet than in a published novel. The novel completely falls apart at the end, with many plotlines, Newell's especially, having unsatisfying conclusions. "Beautiful Children" doesn't really conclude at the end; it just stops.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Mostly liked it, although it struck me as very young, and not just because of the subject matter. The hardest part for me to get around was his trying to cram too much stuff in there, pushing his fascination with his characters before the reader has a chance to develop their own. When he pulls back, holds onto information and goes for a little less-is-more, it's usually really effective. So I guess my beef would be with the lack of variety where his pacing is concerned -- I think that could push Mostly liked it, although it struck me as very young, and not just because of the subject matter. The hardest part for me to get around was his trying to cram too much stuff in there, pushing his fascination with his characters before the reader has a chance to develop their own. When he pulls back, holds onto information and goes for a little less-is-more, it's usually really effective. So I guess my beef would be with the lack of variety where his pacing is concerned -- I think that could push it over into being a great book. On the other hand, he sustains his pitch through the whole novel, and that's something. It's ambitious, and it's very earnest, and I like that he didn't succumb to the temptation to write edgy just because his subject matter is. I really hate the designation of "freshman novel" -- it's so condescending -- but in this case I don't think it's such a bad thing. There's a whole lot here to like, and I'd be really interested to see what he comes out with in the future.

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