Daven's Reviews > This Beautiful Life

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
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Dec 10, 11

Read in December, 2011

Somebody pour me a drink. I feel like I've survived something here.

First off, let me say that I listened to this on CD going to-and-from work, and the fact that the reader was overwhelmingly droll and snooty certainly tainted my impression of the book. It was very challenging to tolerate her smug and judgmental tone.

The plot centers on an upwardly-mobile New York family of four: Richard, a highly-sought university administrator; his wife, Liz, an initially sensible stay-at-home mom who has set her own PhD-fueled pursuits aside to accommodate her husband's trajectory from Ithaca to New York City; Jake, their 15-year-old private school junior son; and Coco, their precocious (and cloying) adopted six-year-old daughter. Early on, Jake is sent an explicit video via e-mail by a 13-year-old girl whom he had just met and mashed faces with the night before, and then had promptly rejected her further advances. This event drives the plot.

The recorded book reader’s grating tone was a factor in my first impressions of the novel. But her reading became inconsequential upon moving into the second half, not because the reading improved, but rather that the ludicrous character developments and overdone writing overtook all other facets. At times, I became mindful of firmly grabbing the steering wheel with both hands to resist the urge to veer off the road and into a tree.

I valued little in those last 120 pages. Schulman apparently feels compelled to transform the everyday into the most overwrought similes. I found myself playing a game of predicting how often "like" or "as" would surface between stoplights, and laughed out loud at my accuracy. Meanwhile, the older characters almost literally morphed into children; Liz became Lizzie, and teenage son Jake became Jakey. Accompanied by the names of Coco and Daisy, I was bracing myself for the executive father Richard to be suddenly addressed as Ricky. Despite the fact that this development didn't occur, it didn't stop the central couple from descending into juvenile obscenity-laced dialogue and jarring, seemingly unprovoked loathing for each other. Sorry, but I don't believe that real people who have shared a life together, had a child, adopted another, and progressed successfully together through 20 years would so suddenly and inexplicably begin to talk to each other like this.

I agree with some other readers who felt that Schulman wrote the closing pages as if a pressing deadline loomed. As a result, story threads remained unresolved (what of Jake’s infatuation with classmate Audrey, and his relationship with his crew of high school buddies?), while the final scene centers on the previously background character of Daisy, the 13-year-old video producer, fast forwarded into her early 20s. The crumbled marriage of Liz and Richard is telescoped into a handful of pages of summative exposition, and we remain unconvinced of its realism.

It has been a long time since I’ve experienced a novel that has collapsed as this one did, with such unlikable characters, such crass moments, and such an overpopulation of painfully forced figurative language. (But I do walk away unscathed, with the “man-boobs like caged hamsters” simile forever seared in my memory. And I even stayed on the road through that one.)
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Reading Progress

12/03/2011 page 100
42.0%
12/07/2011 page 200
83.0% "Was interested for a while, but the combination of this audiobook's reader's gratingly sardonic voice and some of the most strained similes ever encountered ("his man-boobs jiggled like caged hamsters" -- REALLY?) . . . Oh, wow. Help me."
12/08/2011 page 220
92.0% "Probably about 15 more minutes on CD. Regrettably, it has become nothing but laughable. Adults acting like children with no clear motivation, ridiculous plot development . . . halfway through the novel I probably would've rated as 3 stars, but it's rapidly plummeting to (I can't believe it) a one-star bomb."

Comments (showing 1-3)




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Beth I just read this book and agree totally. Love your review.


Shari I agree as well -- and one of the worst audiobook narrators I've heard in a long time! Sleepy, slow, and droll narration.


message 1: by Ute (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ute thanks for that review, i'm glad someone else thought exactly the same about it.


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