After a profile in the Times magazine last week, Charles Bock's debut novel received cover treatment in yesterday's Book Review. The profile pushed me towards reading the book, but the review did the opposite. But that's unfair to Bock because he never asked for a glowing, but poorly written review. A sample, you ask? The review, by Liesl Schillinger starts this way:
O.K., fine. But here's the next sentence: "What should be said of the results of his labors? One word: bravo." Cue projectile vomit.
Charles Bock, the son of Las Vegas pawnbrokers, spent much of his childhood behind the counter of his parents’ shop, staring out at desperate adults as they hocked their most precious possessions in hopes of restoring their luck. “From the back of the store,” he recalls on his Web site, “I’d watch as the customers exploded and called my parents dirty Jews and cursed at them and threatened them at the top of their lungs. It’s impossible in situations like that not to feel for everybody involved — to be horrified, sure, but more than that, to be saddened by the spectacle, to want so much more than that out of life for everyone.”
After he left town, ending up on the East Coast for an M.F.A., Bock retained his searing memories. Now in his late 30s, he has spent a decade transforming them into his first novel, “Beautiful Children.” In it, he brings together the intersecting lives and innermost thoughts of parents and adolescents, strippers and pornographers, runaways and addicts, gamblers and comic-book illustrators, setting them against the neon-lit, heat-parched backdrop of Nevada, where “high walls and gated communities” join together in the night, “shimmering as if they were the surface of a translucent ocean,” and the colored towers of the Vegas Strip resemble a “distant row of glowing toys.”
And while the Times seems to be in love with Bock, Benjamin Strong in Book Forum this month isn't as impressed. Strong's strongest complaint about the book (apologies for the pun) is this:
If these descriptions sound like types, that’s because Bock has a proclivity for conveying his characters and their attitudes with generalizations that sound like a marketer identifying his target demographic. Admittedly, this suits the sociological aims of the book. But for a novelist concerned with the exploitation of minors, Bock writes about youth subcultures he appears to know little about, seemingly just to harness their edginess quotient.I guess I'll just have to read the book (or another hundred other reviews) to figure Bock's "Beautiful Children" out.