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This Beautiful Life: A Novel [Hardcover]

1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book by Schulman, Helen

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Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT WHAT I EXPECTED Aug. 12 2013
I tried very hard to get this book read. It had no staying power for me. I tried again and then gave up completely. I just think that I chose the wrong book. It just did not hold my attention. This can happen to anyone.
H.P.Negahdar 12/2013
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.0 out of 5 stars  155 reviews
50 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I cared about what happened to this family, story came alive for me June 25 2011
By Kare Anderson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
No matter how well-intentioned we are - and the couple in this novel, the Bergamots do mean well -- modern life has fresh ways of making things go awry for couples and families. I wound up caring so much about each of them, vulnerable and strong in different ways and think you will too. What happens when a very in-love couple moves with their two children --an active, adopted six year old from China and a 15 year old sensitie son Jake -- from comfortable Ithaca into New York City - for the man's enticing new job?

Even though the cover description sounded like the story could be poignant, and it is, Schulman's subtle, deft writing pulled me in from page one. This family of fully fleshed out characters, happy, enjoying life, can be hit by one innocent mistake, and the reverberations affect them all. The events ring true in this richly detailed story where literally one move sets things in motion, yet there are foreshadowed moments. No part of this seem contrived, rather it seemed like something that could happen to many other middle-class, perhaps upwardly mobile couples. Thank goodness for long plane flights, said the woman on my left (lives in Manhattan) who began reading my book when I was done. I will look for Schulman's next books to read
34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Everyone is the mum Aug. 3 2011
By Chris Nicholls - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It was an interesting idea for a story: big, digital-age consequences of the kind of thing that in the past would have been easily forgotten or ignorable. The New York Times said it was a book that needed to be written. But when fifteen-year-old Jake upsets a precociously obnoxious thirteen-year-old girl and she responds in a stupid, self-desructive (though not very) and vicious way, a series of relatively unremarkable events ensues that allow Jake's mother and her clone-family to plough through tediously observed emotional tantrums that get rather dull rather quickly. Jake's dad, Richard, is driven by a wannabe-neurotic middle-aged woman's thought patterns and so is his son. Everything comes back to what she feels about things, as if she has imagined everyone else into existence.

This is the problem with the book - the characters don't convince you that they really exist. The school that is the backdrop to events, with its preening pompousness, rings fairly true although it would have been interesting to explore that angle more deeply: a school stands to lose a great deal from such an incident, and the cardboard cutout staff could have added some substance had they been given the chance.

Overall, this book is a disappointment. The characters lack depth, the story meanders nowhere and the surprise ending feels purposeless.
37 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Feelings Stay on the Page July 18 2011
By Karie Hoskins - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I kept waiting and waiting for "This Beautiful Life" to reach its peak. The story hinges on an event that is described within the first few pages of the book and there is very little suspense after that.

The family - Richard, Liz, Jake & Coco - described in this book just don't seem to react too much. Jake, after forwarding a pornographic video, is suspended from school. He stays home during his suspension along with his stay at home mother and his father, taking "family time". They hardly seem to speak of the incident, neither parent seems want to deal with the event & the consequences, and they seem to just be in a holding pattern for most of the book.

Liz, more than anyone, seems bogged down by everything both in and missing from her life. "It was heaven really to be alone in that cramped apartment. And yet, as she had felt almost every day since they'd moved in, when she came back from dropping Coco off at school, or yoga, or errands, or coffee, Liz took one look at her messy home and was overwhelmed by how much there was to do and how little she wanted to do it. Finding that first step into an amorphous day, a day without bones, was always the hardest."

I do like that phrase, though - "a day without bones".

Underneath the uncertain lethargy of most of the characters, there is a message about way the role of parents has changed in this modern world. "(Richard's dad)...didn't focus on him, he didn't coddle him, he didn't help him with his homework or take his emotional temperature three times a day or do any of the things Richard and Lizzie do now, along with eating and breathing, as a way of life. Dad loved his boys within reason. Dad's was a reasonable, conditional love, the condition being that Richard kept his nose clean, that he always did his best, that he conducted himself with honor."

But in general, the story just kind of meanders along, until finally, just near the end, something happens that slaps the family in the face and wakes them from their stupor.

I suppose what kept me at a distance in this book was description of the emotions the characters were feeling...we were told they felt things...but those feelings stayed firmly on the page & didn't spark any reaction on my part.

It seems as if the story of "This Beautiful Life" was almost over before it began.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family drama at its best!! July 1 2011
By D. Sorel - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
My favorite kinds of books are those that focus on a family during a trying time that stresses their family dynamics. While it seems simplistic, this is a lot harder than it appears. Many authors find themselves stuck in a story with no way out and rely on cliches or unrealistic endings. True authors place their characters in emotional crisis and watch them work their way out. This is the tactic that Helen Schulman takes in her new novel "This Beautiful Life".

Lizzie is a happy housewife of two children living in New York City in 2003. She holds a PhD in art history and yearns to return her family to Ithaca, New York where they lived before coming to NYC. However, her husband Richard was offered a job that he simply could not refuse which cause the family to be uprooted. They seem to be living an idyllic life until her son, Jake, is caught in the middle of a sex scandal. Suddenly all of their lives are turned upside down as Lizzie begins to question her role as an effective parent and stay at home mom. Richard takes on the notion that he must do anything to save his family, while Jake is guilt-ridden and confused. Together, they try to overcome this event and continue on as a family. Unfortunately, some situations put even the most stable family at risk.

This plot has certainly be done before, most recently by Anita Shreve in her novel "Testimony". It is for this reason that I wanted to read Schulman's book as I was interested in her take on such a traumatic event. I have to say that in just about 200 pages, she outdoes on previous novels written on the topic. Her characters are dynamic, every changing, and real. The setting is the perfect backdrop for such an event and the constant yearning that the characters have to return to their previous life in upstate New York is almost palatable. The dichotomy between the two "kinds" of New York is extremely interesting and well developed in the novel.

Though the book is physically slim, it packs in quite a punch. Ever family member is given time to be heard and understood by the reader. The third person narrative gives the audience a front row view of the story while allowing the reader to remain objective. It is clear that Schulman constructed the novel this way to prove that there is no winner in situations such as this. Overall, this is a fantastic read that I recommend to all. It shows the lows that people can hit without even knowing and the repercussions that can ripple for decades.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A wealthy, educated family has a problem... Aug. 27 2011
By blondjustice - Published on
I was very disappointed in this book. The premise sounded interesting...the privileged teenaged son of a privileged couple receives a video via e-mail from a younger girl. The video is made to show the boy that she will do anything, sexually, for him. He does what any teen would do...he forwards it to his best friend...who forwards it...and within days it is all over the world. I DID like Jake, the teenaged son, the best of any of the characters. However, to me he was the only truly developed character. His anxiety about being new to his private school, his hopeless crush on a classmate, and his reaction to all the chaos that ensues after he forwards the video were the best parts of this book. The parents are not interesting, and certainly not credible. The mom, who has a PhD, still has to get high just to face picking up her little girl at school. The author spent a lot of words on the father...but he was never a realistic character to me. I don't know why the little girl, Coco, was even in the book. I was hoping to find a new author to enjoy. Sadly, I didn't.
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