Review: Beautiful Children by Charles Bock

A stunning piece of realistic fiction – Bock truly surprised me. For a first novel, Beautiful Children was a home run. I’m typically cynical of new novels which are marketed as “New York Times Bestsellers” and large corporate bookstore centerpieces, as this book was, but I was pleasantly surprised by the honest beauty of Beautiful Children. The mastery Bock demonstrates in interweaving the stories of so many seemingly unconnected people and plots is genius; I generally give up in frustration or irritation when books bounce back and forth between story-lines and time-lines, but Bock had a way of making this disjointedness a realistic part of Las Vegas life. The third-person limited narration was genius – it left me guessing from one page to the next, from chapter to chapter and from story to story. As the novel progressed, I became more excited and terrified to discover how each of these characters relates to the others and, ultimately, to learn what the final pages had in store for these tragic deviants. I generally do not have sympathy for “hard-luck” cases, but Bock finds a Dickensian way of navigating through the everyday plights of the Las Vegas underworld, street urchin, and even the middle class, to make them all seem pitiful and simultaneously in need of championing. The underlying theme, obviously, is the very real problem of child and teenage runaways – how to stop this from happening and how to save the children, once they’ve gone. It was touching, inspiring, nauseating, and finally, beautiful. Had it not been for the somewhat anti-climactic ending (somewhat!), I would have given this novel 5/5. Still, it is very much worth the read.

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