This Beautiful Life: A Novel Hardcover – Jul 25 2011
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“Riveting. . . . As much as this book fiercely inhabits our shared online reality, it operates most powerfully on a deeper level, posing an enduring question about American values.” (Maria Russo, New York Times Book Review)
“This Beautiful Life is as much a bracing novel as a timely cautionary tale…. Schulman has managed to capture this bizarre of-the-moment tragedy in a novel that remains deeply humane and sensitive…. This Beautiful Life is a powerful story of a good family in crisis.” (Mary McGarry Morris, Washington Post)
“Schulman’s topical, unsettling new novel [is] set in Manhattan’s world of private-school privilege but chillingly relatable for parents anywhere…. Raising tough questions about child rearing, morality and the way the Internet both frees and imprisons, Schulman’s story resonates.” (People (3 ½ out of 4 stars))
“A rich, engrossing, and surprisingly nuanced novel exploring timeless questions of guilt and responsiblity.” (O, The Oprah Magazine)
“This Beautiful Life isn’t just an intimate look at family breaking down under intense pressure; it’s also a sharp and unsparing indictment of a culture in search of scapegoats. In this timely and provocative novel, Helen Schulman maps out the contours of a contemporary American nightmare.” (Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers and Little Children)
“A gripping, potent, and blisteringly well-written story of family, dilemma, and consequence. While the setting is thoroughly modern, the drama feels as ancient and inevitable as a Greek myth. I read this book with white-knuckled urgency, and finished it in tears. Helen Schulman is an absolutely brilliant novelist.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Committed and Eat, Pray, Love)
“In the hands of a lesser writer, this might have been simply a book about a scandal; Helen Schulman, though, has a long enough view, and a large enough heart, to have found in that scandal’s outlines a mournful and affecting portrait of our brave new social world.” (Jonathan Dee, Author of The Privileges)
“Helen Schulman’s trenchant social observations and precise, lucid writing are brought to bear on the timely story of a crisis in the life of the Bergamot family…. Schulman takes on a controversial topic with depth, evenhandedness, and warmth. Spare and focused, This Beautiful Life packs a wallop.” (Kate Christensen, author of The Epicure's Lament and The Great Man)
“In another writer’s hands, it might come out as a cautionary tale, but Schulman is careful not to paint anyone as villain or victim.” (Hannah Gerson, New York Observer)
“A harrowing and moving account of just how much twenty-first-century technology has magnified the scope of the kind of imbecilities in which teenagers excel. It’s poignant about the fragility of even those homes that are seemingly invulnerably insulated by privilege and caring and vigilant parents.” (Jim Shepard, author of Like You'd Understand, Anyway)
“With psychological acuity and cinematic pacing, Helen Schulman takes a hypercontemporary nightmare…and parlays it into a wildly compelling novel about parenting, privilege, and the fragility of happiness…. This Beautiful Life is moving, disturbing, and grandly incisive.” (Jonathan Miles, author of Dear American Airlines)
“Helen Schulman is one of the most gifted writers of her generation.” (Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Good Squad)
From the Back Cover
When the Bergamots move from a comfortable upstate college town to New York City, they’re not quite sure how they’ll adapt—or what to make of the strange new world of well-to-do Manhattan. Soon, though, Richard is consumed by his executive role at a large New York university, and Liz, who has traded in her academic career to oversee the lives of their children, is hectically ferrying young Coco around town.
Fifteen-year-old Jake is gratefully taken into the fold by a group of friends at Wildwood, an elite private school.
But the upper-class cocoon in which they have enveloped themselves is ripped apart when Jake wakes up one morning after an unchaperoned party and finds an email in his in-box from an eighth-grade admirer. Attached is a sexually explicit video she has made for him. Shocked, stunned, maybe a little proud, and scared—a jumble of adolescent emotion—he forwards the video to a friend, who then forwards it to a friend. Within hours, it’s gone viral, all over the school, the city, the world.
The ensuing scandal threatens to shatter the Bergamots’ sense of security and identity, and, ultimately, their happiness. They are a good family faced with bad choices, and how they choose to react, individually and at one another’s behest, places everything they hold dear in jeopardy.
This Beautiful Life is a devastating exploration of the blurring boundaries of privacy and the fragility of self, a clear-eyed portrait of modern life that will have readers debating their assumptions about family, morality, and the sacrifices and choices we make in the name of love.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Fellow reviewers both Amazon and professional have pointed out that Schulman injects a female sensibility into each character regardless of gender. That seems valid after reading but I did not spot it initially, what I did identity was there was no way a teen boy would articulate or think as the character does in this book. In fact, all characters are poorly developed.
More importantly, it only glances off the real issues. Namely, did technology corrupt us or was that corruption already in large supply? Or have kids always been kids but because of the devices they walk around with now they must be mature before their time? Are parents less capable of parenting because of the speed of change in our lives? Instead we get 250 pages that could have been a short story. Granted it is a tough topic but that is what should make it a compelling and haunting read. Instead it is a page 6 story that the reader soon forgets.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
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.
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.
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.