Friday, May 9, 2008

Review of “Beautiful Children” by Charles Bock

I finished this book yesterday on a friend’s porch in Charleston, and since it is a new novel that was published in January 2008, I thought it would be a good one to write a review on. I decided first to check out people’s reviews of it on the Facebook “Books I’ve Read” application, and from what I saw people had mixed reviews, which is how I felt as well. This is Bock’s first novel, and it’s pretty impressive when this is considered.

Bock does a good job of creating a group of different characters, and then interweaving them together. It’s almost like the backstories on “LOST,” only not nearly as intricate. Each chapter, or at times each sub-section of chapters, follows one of these characters throughout one day/night in Las Vegas; or at times the narration flashes back to give the characters back story, or flashes forward to tell what happens after the main day/night in the book. I found it interesting that the narration styles tried to mimic the characters themselves: the mother of a runaway boy’s sections sound like those written by a woman whose life has crumbled; whereas the narrations that follow an anarchistic girl have a nihilistic, underground feel. At many times, this narration style worked well. However, at other times it seemed to be inconsistent: in one section that follows a young man who lives on the streets or with his girlfriend and works for a porn-video distributor, the narration is filled with cursing and racist remarks, which I felt mimicked his personality; but in other sections following this same character, the narration is not at all as “nasty,” and there doesn’t seem to be much reason for the change. But overall, I enjoyed this narration style.

While the alternating narration styles were quite interesting, I felt that there were too many characters in the book. Bock continued to introduce more and more characters as the book went on, which I have no problem with; however, these new characters seem to take over the space that the old characters would’ve had in the novel, which led me to wonder what happened to the old characters. One example can be seen in a middle-aged comic book artist. He takes up a large part of the first third of the novel, and seems to be very important to the story. However, after this, he is barely mentioned, and only had 2 or 3 paragraphs that follow him for the rest of the book. I did not understand why he was introduced early, built up so much, and then just abandoned. All the characters connect somehow, which is quite interesting, but I felt like Bock could have done without giving the backstories on very minor characters who have little or no relevance to the main plot of the story.

While there were some other things I had issue with, overall I enjoyed this book. I wouldn’t consider it “great,” but I can see myself re-reading it somewhere down the road; maybe next time I will appreciate it more. While I criticized it at times while reading, I couldn’t help but want to know what would happen next, and the 400+ pages went by quite fast. I will definitely keep a look out for more work from Charles Bock in the future, and I recommend his first novel, “Beautiful Children,” to anyone interested in a good contemporary read.

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