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November 28, 2014

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Start 2011 with a good deed

It’s been a few years since he was in the spotlight, but you remember Charles Bock, right? Once a local — his family has owned pawnshops here for many years — his novel “Beautiful Children,” about lost kids in Las Vegas, was published in 2008 to solid reviews (it was a New York Times notable book), brisk sales and an effusion of media attention. It’s solidly in the Vegas canon now.

But this column isn’t about his book, it’s about his life: “My wife, Diana Colbert, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in July of 2009,” he told me in an e-mail this week. That’s a cancer of the bone marrow. For those who’ve wondered what he’s been doing since “Beautiful Children,” well, that’s some of it right there. Yes, he’s done miscellaneous writing, including a chapter on Nevada for the book “State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America” and book reviews for The New York Times, and he has a second novel under way. (“It’s about sick people,” he told Las Vegas Weekly this year. “It doesn’t take place in Las Vegas.”) But a lot of his life has been about myelogenous leukemia.

“Diana underwent induction, then consolidation chemo, and then had a bone marrow transplant,” he writes. “The first transplant took place in November of 2009, and Diana was released from the hospital on Thanksgiving day.”

Cruelly, a few months ago, they learned the cancer had returned.

He’s guarded about saying much more; he doesn’t want to invade his own privacy with a blurt of intimate family details. Still, leaving aside the steep emotional toll the situation is exacting, you don’t need a novelist’s imagination to guess that it also has to be costing a ton of money. Tests, treatments, insurance, household bills — it piles up.

Which is where this pivots into a story about Bock’s friends. “We’ve been friends for quite some time,” writer Mary-Beth Hughes told me in an e-mail. “In the year following her first bone marrow transplant, many friends took turns cooking and babysitting, and we all watched Diana appear to slowly gain strength.”

So the news of her relapse shocked Hughes and writers Fiona Maazel and Leigh Newman into action. They’ve planned a benefit to help Bock and his family, who live in New York. “We asked writers for help,” Hughes said. “Most on the invitation list will do something at the party if they’re in town: read, sing, give literary advice, auction off a hot-dog lunch with flattery, make balloon animals.” People and organizations are providing space, food and drink and fundraising advice for free or at drastically reduced cost. Some big-name novelists on the list of participants: Jonathan Franzen, Richard Price, Mary Gaitskill, Gary Shteyngart.

“We support each other,” Maazel added. “Right now, he and his wife need some help, so of course his friends were going to step up. It’s just what you do. He’d do the same if it were any one of us. In a flash.”

That’s the narrative most of us would wish for ourselves in that situation — enfolded in the active caring of friends who do more than wish you a speedy recovery. They pitch in — cook, watch the kid, make balloon animals for money.

You can be part of that story, too. The benefit itself may be distant — Feb. 6 in New York — but you can help here and now. Dial up most-literary-rent-party-ever.info and click around until you find the PayPal donation button.

Then donate.

Simple as that.

Think of it this way: It’s a new year. Here’s your chance to begin 2011 with a useful, decent act. I mean, the guy wrote the book on this city. A little giveback isn’t asking too much.

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