In the past few weeks, book people have been marveling at the Times' love affair with first novelist Charles Bock. Bock, author of the Las Vegas novel Beautiful Children, scored the impressive double-whammy of a worshipful Chip McGrath profile in The New York Times Magazine and a worshipful cover review in the Times Book Review. Liesl Schillinger's TBR review even featured an ass-covering explanation of her conversion to the cult of Bock, explaining that Schillinger had seen Bock read last year and hated him, only to "sheepishly" realize upon reading the novel that she "couldn’t anticipate the art that lay behind the larger work."
Galleycat tried to figure out how Bock got such great placement, eventually deciding that publicist Jynne Martin — who also worked on Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep and Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision— has some kind of magic touch with first novels. Everyone else in the book business seethed with freudenschade. But just when we were getting all revved up with righteous indignation, guess who delivers a welcome blast of critical dismissal? Janet Maslin, of all people!
Maslin's daily Times review of Beautiful People this morning is brutal, chipping away at not only Bock's writing but the façade of seedy authenticity McGrath's profile had attempted to give him. Bock's characters, Maslin writes, are "conventional" types "hidden beneath … hipster trappings." Though Bock tries to deliver a different view of Las Vegas, his vision "is only marginally different from the stereotypical Las Vegas fantasyland." But truly, Maslin writes, Bock is just another gaudy Vegas showman: Bock uses "sleaze as his trustiest resource" and cannily "puts most of his emphasis where the smart money goes: on tattoos, piercings, comics, stripping, drugs, nonconsensual sex and various shocking states of delirium." Her final judgment on the novel? "Covertly mundane."
We haven't read the book, so we don't know if it's a masterpiece or a fraud. But we applaud Janet Maslin for renewing our faith in the power of cranky book reviewing!