Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

This Beautiful Life: A Novel This isn't a type of novel I normally read, but the subject matter sounded like a dilemma that unfortunately is becoming almost commonplace. I was curious about how a family would survive it.

Richard and Liz Bergamot have a 15 year old son, Jake, and a 6 year old daughter, Coco. Coco was adopted from China. They had lived happily in Ithaca, NY for some time when Richard accepted a dream job in New York City. Settling in Manhattan was difficult for Liz and Jake, who longed for the simpler life in Ithaca. The children were in private schools with wealthy families' children and Liz struggled to fit in. Only Richard was profoundly happy, and possibly Coco.

Then Jake goes to a party with his friends, gets in over his head because he drinks too much and tries to be one of the guys. He later receives a sexy video email from a younger girl, and does absolutely the wrong thing - he forwards it to his friend.

The effect of this mistake on all of them, but especially Jake, is traumatic. The reaction of each member of the family is shown to the reader, who becomes increasingly afraid for them all. I fear some readers will decide it's Manhattan or the wealthy kids who are to blame for what happens, but the same thing could have happened in Ithaca or any other town in America. Like sexting, it is happening all around us.

We all ruefully recall our own dumb teenage mistakes, but now those mistakes happen all too publicly. Thanks to cell phones, computers, and all the other electronic gadgets most kids have access to, the pictures and words that can be terribly damaging are broadcast all over the world. Meanwhile parenting, always a tough job, increases in difficulty.

If you have the stomach to read about a parent's worst nightmare, you will want to read This Beautiful Life. The book is insightful and delves deeply into this family's journey through that nightmare. I received the book from Amazon Vine.


  1. Just reading your review scares me; I don't think I could take the book!

  2. Jill, It is a bit hard to take. What makes it worth reading is Schulman's characters, particularly Jake and his mother. But the subject matter is really a nightmare.

  3. This would not be my typical read either, but I am intrigued now.

  4. I don't think I could bear reading it, but yes, it is all around us. And not just kids - that NYC congressman comes to mind.

  5. I am not sure this one is for me either. Life with children is hard enough as it is so i prefer reading about crimes that could not involve my family.

  6. I, too read the book even though it was not the kind i usually do - and loved it. Not the worst thing that could happen to a family - death - yet something that had a devastating effect on them all, and I did wind up caring about them all.... and will read Helen's next book too, I enjoyed your review