Ok, so you may (or may not) have noticed that I am late for this review. Ironically enough, I actually finished This Beautiful Life over a week ago, but somehow my muddled brain thought my review was due to go up on the sixth instead of the first. We’ll blame it on the baby brain. Pregnancy is an easy scapegoat! But I digress. On to my review.
Have you ever had a moment where you made what seemed to be an innocuous, split second decision? The type of decision that seemed so innocent, the type of decision that seems so mundane you would never give it a second thought? Jake Bergamot is just like any other teenage boy. He enjoys his freedom, hanging out with friends, and making out with girls. The Friday night in question seemed like any other, with Jake and his friends getting caught up at a local house party. Daisy is only in eighth grade but she is often left to her own devices, so on this night she has taken advantage of her parent’s absence and decided to throw a house party. She and Jake hook up, although he stops it before either of them go too far. Or so he thinks.
The next day Daisy emails a strip tease video of herself to Jake that culminated with her sticking a miniature baseball bat where the sun don’t shine. (And I should just note as a small aside that the book takes place in 2003, when teenagers apparently communicated with each other via emails. It seemed a bit antiquated to me, because I graduated high school in 2002 and it was rare that my friends and I sent one another emails . . . ) So what does Jake do? You guessed it. He forwarded the email to his best friend. What fifteen year old guy wouldn’t do that, I ask you?!This is where things start to get a bit sticky. Before you know it, the video has been emailed halfway across the globe and back. The media has gotten a hold of it and all hell has broken loose.
For such a seemingly meaningless gesture, Jake has now put his entire future at risk. His school is attempting to expel him and there is discussion of criminal charges being forthcoming. Not only is Jake in the center of the maelstrom, but as you would expect, his entire family is affected. Jake’s dad is a higher up with a local university and on the verge of making some huge career moves. Unfortunately, once the scandal hits, he is forced to take a leave of absence from work at the behest of his employer. Jake’s mother is equally damaged by what’s going on, and she seems to be becoming a former shell of herself, with Jake’s younger sister Coco becoming lost in the midst.
This Beautiful Life is an intimate portrayal of a family falling apart at the seams. Told from the viewpoints of Jake and his parents, you see all three of them unraveling and reacting in different ways. The book was written in such a gritty, realistic way that I had no trouble imagining this is a true story. As such, I was a ball of emotions as the book wore on. I was so angry with Jake’s position. It didn’t seem just that one email sent to one person could have such ramifications, especially when the sender is a kid. Most fifteen year old’s don’t have the capabilities to rationalize their behavior to that extent, so I was disgusted at the actions of the school, not to mention the pending criminal charges.
On the other hand, I was annoyed by Jake’s mom Liz. She seemed to cower the most once faced with Jake’s indiscretion, and as time went on, she became more and more dispirited. It got to the point where I was begging her to just pick herself up by her bootstraps and get on with life for the sake of her children.
If you’re interested in well written family drama, This Beautiful Life is a captivating read.
About Helen Schulman
Helen Schulman is the author of the novels A Day at the Beach, P.S., The Revisionist, and Out of Time, as well as the short story collection Not a Free Show. An associate professor of writing at The New School, she lives in New York City.
Helen’s Tour Stops
Thursday, February 9th: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, February 15th: A Soul Unsung
Thursday, February 16th: Luxury Reading
Friday, February 17th: There’s A Book
Monday, February 20th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, February 21st: Everyday I Write the Book
Tuesday, February 28th: The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Wednesday, February 29th: Book Hooked Blog
Monday, March 5th: Chunky Monkey
Tuesday, March 6th: Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, March 7th: The Book Bag
Thursday, March 8th: Suko’s Notebook
Friday, March 9th: Stiletto Storytime
Tuesday, March 13th: “That’s Swell!”
TBD: Reviews By Lola
TBD: Book Journey