Reviewed by Garret Rose
Helen Schulman brings the reader into a dark, unflinching, and somewhat unforgiving world of the Bergamot family in her new novel, This Beautiful Life. The family consists of Jake, a fifteen and-a-half-year-old learning about his body and mind; Coco, a free-spirited, adopted six-year-old; Richard, a hard working father and successful businessman; and Lizzie, the reluctant stay-at-home mother. After moving from the safe, rural confines of Ithaca, New York to the fast-paced, unnerving environment of New York City at the behest of Richard, the family finds themselves in the middle of a magnanimous change. To complicate matters further, Jake runs into a world of trouble after an inebriated experience that could be the downfall of his family’s very foundation.
After a night of partying Jake receives an email that will change his life forever. Dumbfounded, he forwards it to his friends and within a couple of days, everyone he goes to school with has viewed it. Because of this, Jake is suspended and the news of his actions jeopardize Richard’s career and Lizzie’s dignity.
The beauty of Schulman’s story is that just when it feels that this will be some type of a scripted Hollywood movie, she veers the plot into a different direction. Just when it feels that the family will survive with only a few scars, more wounds open up. Schulman does a great job staying away from the clichéd conventions that infiltrate into dramatic situations. The portrait she paints is that of a very human family with very human responses to very human mistakes. No one seems to take on the protagonist role, or for that matter, no one takes on the role of the antagonist either. Schulman also does a great job in not answering every question towards the end of the story. This gives the reader a chance to pause and reflect about what they have read, rather than being sold short on their own imagination.
This Beautiful Life is an uncompromising and very graphic modern-day story about teenage sexuality and its possibly devastating effects. It is also a story about love, devotion, and forgiveness (even though forgiveness is not really summed up at the end). While very disturbing and explicit, it is a novel that will challenge the reader to reflect on how far they would go to sacrifice for the ones that they love.
Garret loves literature! He is creating the Vernal Journal for his students as well as anyone else that is interested in literature – be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, or even miscellaneous! Garret’s goal is to share, review and make connections to the world and each other.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper Perennial. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.