This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins
Liz Bergamots is enjoying her life in New York City with her husband, Richard, and two children, Jake and Coco. But everything changes for Liz when fifteen-year-old Jake is sent a sexually explicit video by a thirteen-year-old girl with a crush on him. Without even thinking, Jake forwards the video to a friend, who forwards it to another friend, and so on, and before he knows it, the video has gone viral. How each member of this family chooses to react to this situation has devastating effects on everything that follows.
My book club chose This Beautiful Life as the February selection, a choice I was completely on board with because I thought the premise of this one sounded fascinating and, unfortunately, entirely realistic. I was sad that I had to miss the meeting due to a work conflict, but had I been there, I would have been a loud voice saying that I was NOT a fan of this novel. Let me tell you why.
The biggest problem I had with This Beautiful Life (or problems, I suppose) was the characters. Every single one of them. I hated the way they each reacted to the video and its aftermath, I hated the way they interacted with one another, and I hated the way they each contributed significantly to the destruction of their family. Liz especially reacted so destructively and almost disgustingly to what happened to her son. It was just not good.
Everything about this novel was just sad. The young girl who found it necessary to email a pornographic video of herself to Jake, the person that Jake turned into by the end of the novel, the way the head of the school reacted to this situation – all of it was beyond sad. By the end, there was just nothing about this book that could redeem it in my eyes.
I suppose I did find the writing in This Beautiful Life to be quite good; in fact I might be willing to read another Schulman novel based on the writing alone. But overall I just did not like this book. It may be a fascinating topic, but it just didn’t work for me.