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.
A wide-ranging portrait of an almost mythically depraved Las Vegas, this sweeping debut takes in everything from the bland misery of suburban Nevada to the exploitative Vegas sex industry. At the nexus of this Dickensian universe is Newell Ewing, a hyperactive 12-year-old boy with a comic-book obsession. One Saturday night, Newell disappears after going out with his socially awkward, considerably older friend. Orbiting around that central mystery are a web of sufferers: Newell's distraught parents, clinging onto a fraught but tender marriage; a growth-stunted comic book illustrator; a stripper who sacrifices bodily integrity for success; and a gang of street kids. Into their varying Vegas tableaux, Bock stuffs an overwhelming amount of evocative detail and brutally revealing dialogue (sometimes in the form of online chats). The story occasionally gets lost in amateur skin flicks, unmentionable body alterations and tattoos, and the greasy cruelty of adolescents, all of which are given unflinching and often deft closeups. The bleak, orgiastic final sequence, drawing together the disparate plot threads, feels contrived, but Bock's Vegas has hope, compassion and humor, and his set pieces are sharp and accomplished. (Jan.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 21, 2008
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Excerpt from Beautiful Children by Charles Bock
WELCOME TO FABULOUS LAS VEGAS
The lens zooms in, then draws back. The images are shaky: a celebration, that much is clear; children in bright orange jerseys and matching baseball caps, some worn backward, or with bills to the side. They chatter and jibe, passing pitchers of soda, reaching for slices with favorite toppings. Chins shine with grease. Smiles glow as if smeared with lipstick. One boy sits a bit away from the rest, toward the end of the table. He is pretty much the same size as everyone else--pudgier than some, smaller than others. He's not wearing a cap, though, and the poor resolution of the camcorder makes it look as if the top of his skull might be consumed in flame. But no. Another second shows nothing more dangerous than a mass of bright red hair. The child leans forward now, his jersey bunching around his shoulders. Attempting to convince the nearest teammate to unscrew the top of a salt shaker, his freckled face is animated, lively. Dude, we can hear him say. Come on. Come on, dude. A punch to the shoulder answers him. He squeals, though not unhappily. Dick.
The camcorder's microphone catches the tail end of a reprimand from an unseen adult. It catches the boy's protest, It wasn't me! By this time, though, focus is shifting, swinging toward the middle of the table, where coaches and other adults subdue a slap fight. After a few seconds, a semblance of decorum is reached; the presentation of the next trophy begins, and the camera pans down the length of the table, showing children in varying states of interest. And here judicious use of the fast-forward cues a final appearance by the redheaded boy, for just a few seconds, a short sequence--he directs a sneering remark toward the action; when his neighbor does not respond, the boy sinks into his chair. The flesh of his cheeks lengthens, goes slack. Small eyes cloud, turn dark.
This sequence, these scant seconds, are why the Ewings tracked down that videotape. Because recent photos were supposed to work best, were supposed to give a potential witness the best chance at identification. So Lincoln and Lorraine would stand at the front door of a nice couple whose names they had memorized on the ride over. Nodding soberly, the Ewings would thank the couple for all their help. They would try to make small talk. The delighted shrieks of children would interrupt, breaking out from upstairs, bodies tramping, at play. Then designer sunglasses would not be able to hide Lorraine's tears. And then Lincoln would take his wife into his arms. Gently he would stroke her hair and gently he would guide her back down the walkway, her face staying buried in his shoulder, her mascara running, just a bit, onto his suit's lapel. No words between them, just his arm delicate around her waist, their long, twisted shadow slipping diagonally through the trim, open yard. And yes, that black cassette, it would be Lincoln's possession: in his opposite hand, as far from Lorraine as possible.