Monday, September 15, 2008
monday book review: beautiful children, by charles bock

"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 it's 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.

Beautiful Children
Charles Bock
407 pages, 2008

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