JudithAnn's Reviews > This Beautiful Life

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
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's review
Aug 09, 2011

really liked it
Read in August, 2011

Liz and Richard have recently moved from Ithaca to New York City and their teenage son, Jake, and adopted Chinese daughter Coco, have settled into their new school.

When a girl who forces herself upon Jake at a party sends him an email the next day, his whole life and that of his family changes irrevocably: the girl included a video of herself performing porn acts. Not knowing how to react, Jake forwards it to a friend and by the end of the weekend it’s all over the internet.

The girl’s parents threaten to sue while the Jake’s school expels him.

Liz, Jake’s mother, was already struggling to be part of Coco’s school community while Jake’s father Richard is trying to get a big project approved. Jake’s actions threaten both parents’ acceptance in their respective communities.

The book looks at issues as: Are Richard and Liz good parents? How does 5-year old Coco fare under all the upheaval? Is Jake the culprit here, or should the blame be all on the girl?

I enjoyed reading this book but I was never gripped. It felt a bit flat for me, no heart-wrenching emotions, and there should have been. Yes, the main characters all had their scala of emotions but somehow they didn’t transfer to me, the reader. It’s like I watched and saw it all from a distance.

There were three main characters: the parents, Liz and Richard, and the teenage son, Jake. The story is alternately told from their points of view. None of these I felt enough sympathy for to care a lot about their feelings. Maybe this is where the book becomes less than perfect for me.

On the good side, the book was exquisitely and brilliantly written. The atmosphere of the book reminded me somewhat of On Beauty by Zadie Smith (family, affluent, moved elsewhere, teenage kid).

A really good, rather serious read about teenage life, family life and parenting.
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