Bock, Charles 1970–
Bock, Charles 1970–
Born 1970, in Las Vegas, NV; married. Education: Attended Bennington College.
Home—New York, NY. Agent—PFD, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.
Writer and educator. Has taught fiction at the Gotham Writers Workshop, New York, NY.
Recipient of fellowships from Yaddo (three), UCross Foundation, and the Vermont Studio Center.
Beautiful Children: A Novel, Random House (New York, NY), 2008.
Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, and AGNI.
Charles Bock is a fiction writer whose first book, Beautiful Children: A Novel, has received widespread acclaim. "Charles Bock's Beautiful Children is being hailed as one of the best debut novels in years," wrote Kristen Peterson in the Las Vegas Sun. "Esquire placed it on its list of 100 things you should know about and the New York Times Magazine devoted six pages to profiling Bock and his hometown of Las Vegas."
The author spent eleven years writing the novel, which takes place in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. "What should be said of the results of his labors?" queried Liesel Schillinger in the New York Times Book Review. "One word: bravo." Schillinger wrote in the same review: "Like a whirling roulette wheel, Beautiful Children presents a mesmerizing blur. Imagine each vivid slash of color as a character, with his or her own impetus toward loss and stubborn striving. Bock slows or stops the wheel at will, bringing each slot into saturated individual focus."
The son of parents who owned a pawnshop, Bock often got to see the seedier side of Las Vegas and the sometimes profound consequences that gambling could have on people's lives. "I saw some bad scenes," the author told Scott Timberg in an interview for the Los Angeles Times. "I'd feel defensive for my parents, but also for these people, seeing them have a tantrum or a breakdown. Or in seventh grade, my grandfather's store was robbed and he was put in the hospital—someone called the school and took me out of homeroom."
The novel's story revolves around the disappearance of twelve-year-old Newell Ewing, who doesn't return when he goes out one Saturday night with his wild friend named Kenney. The boy's distraught parents, Lorraine and Lincoln, are both already dealing with disappointed lives. Lorraine was a former showgirl who had a cesarean section when delivering Newell, and the scar effectively ended her career. Lincoln is a convention-center executive who was good enough to play minor league baseball but quickly saw that he would never make it to the big leagues. Furthermore, Lincoln, who wants to console his wife, is unable because of the barrier between them.
Although the lynchpin to the novel is the Ewing family, Bock presents a panorama of characters who come to the forefront as the Ewings deal with the mystery of what has become of Newell. These seemingly unconnected characters are tied together by a series of events that occur on the same night as Newell's disappear- ance. Among the cast are a stripper who views her life as scenes from a movie, an illustrator of comics who has come to Las Vegas for a night of debauchery, an anarchist who is a Wiccan, and an assortment of punks and misfits who are at the novel's climax during a party in the desert.
"This novel is about runaways: Adults avoiding responsibility, children unwilling to mature, netherworld losers running away from engagement," wrote Carlo Wolff in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The novel's focus switches from the Ewings to the various characters whose lives appear to have reached the edge of some abyss, such as a would-be porn star named Cheri Bloom. Cheri is a stripper who wears a Catholic schoolgirl uniform in her act but also believes that she is headed toward moral redemption by the guidance of an imaginary nun. As expected in dealing with such characters, Bock depicts some horrendous and brutal moments in the characters' lives. David A. Berona, writing in the Library Journal, noted the novel's "blunt and sometimes uncomfortable descriptions of abuse and squalor."
The author admits to being uncomfortable with some of the book's scenes. "The adult-film scenes were not a pleasant mental activity to wrap myself around," he told Brendan Lemon in Interview. In his interview with Peterson for the Las Vegas Sun, Bock noted: "Sometimes I was amazed at where things were going, but I lived as much in this world as I lived in the physical world around me. I spent more time working on this than I did going out and doing stuff in New York City. I really just wanted this flawed, complicated group of people and like a love letter to them and to the idea of lives that just don't go the right way."
As the story is told with flashbacks, Newell remains a prominent character throughout. "Newell may be missing at the onset of the novel, but he's not absent from the novel itself," wrote Rick Kleffel on Trashotron.com—Agony Column. "But as he and his sixteen-year-old friend Kenney cruise through the microwave-melted mélange of suburb and strip malls that is Vegas beyond the strip, readers will realize for a moment that they're seeing life through the windows of that handbasket hurtling towards Hell."
Several reviewers commented on the difficulty of telling a story that jumps back and forth in time. However, most praised the author for his ability to manipulate the story within various time sequences. Noting that Beautiful Children "could have collapsed into a series of vacuous interludes," Blogcritics.org contributor Ted Gioia wrote that the author "raises it to a higher level through the intricate structure of his narrative." Gioia also wrote: "Most of the action takes place during the course of a single day, but Bock constantly flashes forward and backward in one of the most brilliant manipulations of chronology that I have encountered in recent fiction."
Among the many critics who praised Bock's debut novel was Malcolm Jones of Newsweek. Jones wrote: "Charles Bock's debut novel, Beautiful Children—the book of the moment—dazzles its readers on almost every page. Bock cooks up more characters and plots, and subplots, in a single chapter than most novelists manage in an entire book." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that "Bock's Vegas has hope, compassion and humor, and his set pieces are sharp and accomplished."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 2007, Michele Leber, review of Beautiful Children: A Novel, p. 23.
Entertainment Weekly, January 25, 2008, Tina Jordan, "Lost Vegas," review of Beautiful Children, p. 73.
Interview, February, 2008, Brendan Lemon, "Charles Bock: How a Debut Novelist Found His Muse in His Parents' Las Vegas Pawnshop," p. 76.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2007, review of Beautiful Children.
Las Vegas Sun, February 5, 2008, Kristen Peterson, "Q+A: Charles Bock; From Vegas, a Literary Hero Emerges," interview with author.
Library Journal, October 1, 2007, David A. Berona, review of Beautiful Children, p. 56.
Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2008, Scott Timberg, "Time Has Come for Runaway Novelist; Charles Bock's Acclaimed ‘Beautiful Children’ Took 10 years."
Newsweek, February 18, 2008, Malcolm Jones, "The Dark Side of Vegas," review of Beautiful Children, p. 59.
New York Times, February 7, 2008, Janet Maslin, "Characters Adrift on the Fast Track to Nowhere," review of Beautiful Children.
New York Times Book Review, February 3, 2008, Liesel Schillinger, "Leaving Las Vegas," review of Beautiful Children.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 17, 2008, Carlo Wolff, "Debut Novelist Bets It All on Vegas as Microcosm of America," review of Beautiful Children.
Publishers Weekly, August 27, 2007, review of Beautiful Children, p. 58; October 29, 2007, Sarah Seltzer, "PW Talks with Charles Bock: What Happens in Vegas," p. 29.
Beautiful Children Web site,http://www.beautifulchildren.net (March 28, 2008).
Blogcritics.org,http://blogcritics.org/ (February 19, 2008), Ted Gioia, review of Beautiful Children.
Crockatt and Powell Booksellers,http://crockattandpowell.blogspot.com/ (September 6, 2007), C.P. Matthew, review of Beautiful Children.
PFD,http://www.pfd.co.uk/ (March 29, 2008), brief profile of author.
Random House,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (March 29, 2008), brief profile of author.
Trashotron.com—Agony Column,http://trashotron.com/agony/ (February 8, 2008), Rick Kleffel, review of Beautiful Children.