Bock, Charles. Beautiful Children. Read by Mark Deakins. New York: Random House Audio, 2008.
Reason read: As some of you know, my cousin was homeless and lived under the neon in Las Vegas. In October of a certain year he was found dead. Beautiful Children was read in his honor, but now I have a new event to memorialize: the Las Vegas concert massacre earlier this month. October is a cruel, cruel month and Beautiful Children is a cruel, cruel book.
I don’t know how to review this book. I was not expecting to dislike every character, even the missing kid, Newell. I hated that I liked him least of all. The premise of the story is twelve year old Newell goes missing on the streets of Las Vegas. Vegas gives Bock a huge canvas to work with. Think about it: the seedy and spectacular people, the gritty and shiny atmosphere, the ever-lurking potential for danger around every corner. It’s Sin City, after all! Bock does take advantage of the expanse of his canvas but not in a good way. It’s almost like he had too much space so he overfilled it with garbage. Story lines are jumbled and discombobulated. Like marbles scattering in a hallway, Bock careens from one time and place to another. Yes, there are criminals, strippers, homeless kids, drug addicts, pawnshop owners, gamblers, sex addicts, comic book illustrators, beggars, liars, thieves…all of them sad and pitiful. The center of this story is supposed to be focused on a missing kid. Yes, the parents are grief stricken and the marriage suffers, but not enough attention is paid to the here and now of that intense drama. Instead, Bock delves into what intense sadness does to to a sex life. There are no FBI agents anxiously hovering over wire-tapped telephones while hand wringing, pale faced parents look on. There are no episodes of pounding the streets, littering them with Have You Seen Me? fliers. Instead, Bock focuses on the underbelly of the beast; a world where pedophiles and pornographers feel at home.
Maybe it’s because I listened to this on audio. Maybe it’s because the sex scenes were practically pornographic. Maybe it’s because the story couldn’t stay linear for two minutes. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t find a character to love or even like. I suspect, if I look for the truth closer to home, I didn’t like Beautiful Children because, for all of his over the top, down and dirty descriptions of Las Vegas, when it came right down to it, he was describing my cousin’s last home. My cousin could have been that homeless kid on page 122.
Author fact: Charles Bock is a native of Las Vegas.
Narrator fact: Mark Deakins has appeared on the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Never saw an episode.
Book trivia: Beautiful Children was Charles Bock’s first novel.
Nancy said: Nancy described the plot but also mentioned the sins in Beautiful Children are not the ones you would expect of Vegas.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple and obvious chapter called (drum roll) “Las Vegas” (p 129).