THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE by Helen Schulman

Book Quote:

“They are too accomplished. They have accumulated too much. They expect too much. They demand too much. They even love their kids too much. This love is crippling in its own way.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (AUG 2, 2011)

Somewhere on the journey from the comfortable upstate college town of Ithaca to the glistening moneyed world of downtown Manhattan, the Burgamots have lost their way.

Dad Richard has become consumed by his prestigious executive role at a major New York university. Mom Liz is fielding social calls and taking her young adopted daughter to sleepovers in a lush and decadent midtown hotel where “the central part of the suite looked exactly like the one Tony Soprano had once rented in a dream sequence…double sink, toilet, shower, and bidet in the size of a studio apartment.” And their teenage son, Jake? He’s navigating adolescence without a roadmap. Like all too many teens, he feels like he “didn’t belong here, in the city, in this apartment, at this school, or in this family…”

This is a family crusin’ for a bruisin’. And it all comes to a head when one morning, Jake received an explicit emailed video from a sexually precocious eighth-grade admirer named Daisy. Stunned and clueless, Jake is overcome by a cocktail of emotions: “He’d gotten hard. He’d gotten proud. He’d been appalled, scared; he’d wanted to show off.” And just like that, without forethought, he clicks and forwards to a close friend…who clicks and forwards to HIS close friends…and so on. Soon the video has gone viral all over the world and Jake – and his entire family – is in murky legal waters.

Author and social observer Helen Schulman maps out this family’s spiraling journey to the top – and their ignoble withdrawal from favor. With cinematic pacing – reminding me somewhat of Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal– she moves her focus in and out, in a blistering look at a family on the crossroads

Had this book remained tightly focused on the ensuing scandal, it would have been a page turning “read.” But Ms. Schulman is more ambitious. She takes on broader themes: how one two-second bad decision can change a teen’s whole future, when today’s technology in involved. How one’s sense of identity and security are all fragile conceits that can disappear in a heartbeat. And perhaps most important, how wealth without grounding can turn individuals into careless people who use questionable tactics to get optimum results. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, it becomes all too easy. The Bergamots, too, are on the verge of those who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.”

With an abundance of psychological acuity, Helen Schulman tracks a family who is having difficulty managing “this beautiful life” – a life that shows cracks and fissures along its underbelly. Everyone is affected, even their young daughter Coco, who, with her overblown kindergarten graduation ceremony and over-the-top schedule, is primed (it is hinted) for a similar destiny to Daisy’s. The ending is wrapped up a little too quickly, but the fragility of the shattered sense of self – for Jake, for the young girl, for Liz and Richard – lingers. No one is insulated by privilege…not when the demands of life have become so complex. And no one, the author suggests – rich or not so rich – is immune to the sudden scandal in a digital age.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 126 readers
PUBLISHER: Harper (August 2, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Helen Schulman
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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August 2, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters, NE & New York, New York City, Reading Guide

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