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There's been so much hype about Charles Bock's debut novel, "Beautiful Children" -- including a front-page review in The New York Times Book Review and a profile of Bock in the paper's Sunday magazine -- that the blogosphere was almost in backlash mode even before the book's release last Tuesday.
But you know what? It actually deserves the attention. Bock's novel is not an easy read; at 407 pages, it skips around through interconnected story lines in a sprawling narrative that begins with the disappearance of a 12-year-old boy named Newell from his suburban Las Vegas home. It plunges deep (perhaps too deep for some readers' comfort) into the seedy, often pervy subcultures of that fakest (and simultaneously most authentic and soul-baring) of American cities. Hype or not, "Beautiful Children" is powerful, engrossing and deeply disturbing in a way that feels revelatory about the American experience; it's surely one of the most ambitious first novels in years. As always with Pop Pick, I'm randomly giving away a copy. To be eligible, send me an e-mail with "Beautiful Children" in the subject line on or before Feb. 15.