THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE
By: Helen Schulman
Publisher: Harper Perenniel
Pub. Date: August 2011
Formats: Hardback, Paperback and Electronic
Age Group: Adults
Review: I’d like to first thank HarperCollins for sending me the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE by Helen Schulman is told from various viewpoints, but mainly the POV of a mother and wife, Elizabeth Bergamot who lives in New York City with her family. Elizabeth is happy with her life — her husband is successfully working at a university, her son Jake is turning sixteen and becoming a man before her eyes; and her daughter Coco, a precocious little kindergartener who they recently adopted from China.
The story opens up with a prologue of a shocking scene of young girl taking a sexually graphic video of herself for a boy. As Elizabeth states in the first chapter, it all began with a party. It takes a while to lead up to that party and the plot — the video being e-mailed to Jake which turns the family’s life upside down.
At the party, yeah, we finally get there, we find out that girl’s name is Daisy and she’s 13. Jake knows this, but because he’s drunk, he makes out with her. Big mistake! Through his drunken stupor, he realizes this isn’t right for him , she’s way too young. Daisy tries pushing herself onto Jake, but he rejects her, which upsets Daisy. When Jake gets home, he discovers the video sent by Daisy herself on his computer. Jake is rather disgusted by it and doesn’t know what to do. So, he stupidly sends the video to his friend who, of course, sends it just about everyone else. By the next day, the video is virtually — everywhere.
The premise of how the Bergamot’s deal with the issue is an interesting one and the reason I wanted to read it. However, there were many things that bothered me about the novel and I, also, became bored. THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE wasn’t for me.
Despite the book being 222 pages, it takes almost half the novel to get up to the bread and butter of the story. I was rubbed the wrong by the narrator’s tone and style. It’s filled with unnecessary minutia that I believe drags the story down. The novel has received a lot of hype. While reading it I kept wondering what I was missing.
Elizabeth is too self-absorbed with trying to make it in her new life among high society, especially Coco’s “rise” in her kindergarten class, such as attending a sleep over at the Plaza hotel. Even the name Coco is too pretentious – at least for the story. I don’t mean to offend people out there named Coco, it’s just my opinion. But the name bothered me to no end. Usually character names don’t trouble me, but this name did. Maybe it’s because the parents and the son have not so unusual names. It also made Coco stand out. Jake should be the one standing out in the story.
The other thing that bothered me was how Elizabeth knows every little detail and factor about her son’s life to the point I felt nauseous. She was too much in his head, as well as Coco and Richard’s head. I found all this all this distracting from the very solid premise.
I would have liked the story better if it had been from Jake’s entire perspective. Isn’t it ultimately Jake’s story? Nope. It’s Elizabeth’s, which would have been fine had she not gotten on my nerves. I liked Jake the best out of all the characters. Even though the characters struggle with the issues in the novel — the legality of the video, press coverage up the wazoo (way overdone realistically), and Jake’s emotional well-being, I couldn’t relate to them. The parents seemed to care more about themselves than their son. His dad at one point calls him a failure. Your son has gone through this traumatic experience and you call him a failure?
I also didn’t like how Daisy becomes famous at her school and soaks it up like a sponge, and the kids at the school pat Jake on the back, which bothers him — he’s not a hero, but an innocent victim. It is disturbing. At the end, Daisy still thinks Jake is the one to blame and should apologize. He should should apologize? Ummm…I don’t think so.
Yes, Schulman does a good job describing family dynamics and the Bergamot’s fractured one. But still, the whole thing fell short for me, leaving me very disappointed! I was so looking forward to reading this book. The novel’s narrative is too melodramatic to make me want to continue reading, but I did. Some of it went on and on, to the point I wanted to scream — get to the point! The novel wraps up abruptly. It’s somewhat of a jolt, particularly after all the drawn out sentences and descriptions of the Bergamot’s world.
If THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE sounds interesting to you, then you may just like it. Give it a shot.
(Feel free to use my meme button but please just link back to me. Thanks!)
“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating!
Follow Helen Schulman on: goodreads
THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES
By: Jussi Alder-Olsen/Translated By: Tiina Nunnley
Series: Serie Q #1
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Pub. Date: August 18, 2011
Formats: Hardcover and Electronic
Age Group: Adults
What are you “waiting on” reading?