That Way They’ll Know I’m Alive by Charles Bock

This short story by Charles Bock was published in 2000 by AGNI, the literary journal at Boston University. It is a precursor to Bock’s debut novel, “Beautiful Children” and, for the most part, survives intact in the book. This piece introduces the Girl With The Shaved Head and Ponyboy, two characters who have a pivotal role in the novel’s climax. Here is one of the better excerpts:

“On the opposite side of the eight-lane superhighway, their sprint ended at a stretch along the edge of the Circus Circus complex. Here the pedestrian stream thinned, and tourists did what they could to avoid the string of heavily-pierced teenage corpses. Hooligans reclined against the bottom of the casino wall, some pouring condiment packages down their throats, others finger-painting, tracing portraits on the sidewalk with mustard and ketchup. A circle of teenage ghouls were passing a bottle to and fro. Ponyboy spotted the dude with the battery through his nose and immediately left the girl with the shaved head, surprising his buddy with a bear hug and an affectionate cry, COCKSUCKER.”

This short story is a good representation of the writing in “Beautiful Children.” There are wonderfully descriptive passages that contain a tremendous amount of energy, but occasionally Bock tends to get over descriptive, which saps the prose of its momentum. If you like this story, you’ll most likely enjoy the entire book.

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Beautiful Children by Charles Bock

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The 150-word Review: Charles Bock’s Las Vegas is a glittering monument to our society’s vapid depravity and it’s aversion to anything unpleasantly “real.” Underneath the persistent glow of neon, an unfortunate multitude scuffles along unacknowledged, shaped by misfortune, fear, loneliness, and pain.

Bock’s novel, “Beautiful Children,” is a testament to street kids, littered across pedestrian walkways and side alleys, abandoned to create their own morality. It’s also a testament to suburban families, the seemingly lucky ones, who are just as adrift as the rest.

The story’s catalyst is the frustratingly inexplicable disappearance of Newell Ewing, a hyperactive 12-year-old obnoxious brat, during one eventful Saturday night. This allows Bock to explore an eclectic lot of lost souls, including: Newell’s emotionally paralyzed parents; his artistically talented but painfully introverted older friend; and a grotesquely-enhanced stripper and her boyfriend, a scheming, cocksure veteran street punk. The result is a fast-paced, sometimes cluttered, but ambitiously inspiring debut.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: ex-showgirls and convention sales executives; purveyors of smut and perversion; dirty Goth street urchins; decrepit third-string Rat Packers; the literary cognoscenti; and anyone who’s familiar with the fine establishments on Industrial Boulevard.

This book will go great with: a cover charge and a two-drink minimum.

Set the mood with: Viva Las Vegas by Dead Kennedys

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, Charles Bock comes from a family of pawnbrokers who’ve operated pawnshops in downtown Las Vegas for more than thirty years.

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