Helen Schulman - This Beautiful Life
Slightly outdated family drama that retains some timeliness and authenticity
With frightening believability, New York novelist Helen Schulman depicts a single, unthinking mouse-click tearing a family apart. Set in 2003, aspects of This Beautiful Life are outdated, but the key dramatic action of a 15-year-old boy carelessly forwarding a sexually explicit email and its wildfire proliferation has an authenticity and contemporaneity that the novel otherwise lacks.
Schulman has a strong grasp of sexual precocity in the internet age, but the privileged, private school teens she portrays exist chiefly as extensions of their parents’ dysfunction and she heaps the cautionary tale on thick. Despite the impeccable working-class origins of Liz Bergamot and her eminently successful husband Richard – who have an adopted Chinese six-year-old daughter as well as Jake on the cusp of adulthood – there’s a regrettable pleasure to be had in wealthy, elite Manhattanites enduring self-inflicted suffering, something that detracts from the book’s universality. Greater focus on the kids’ psychological fallout rather than the parental hand-wringing and self-pity might have been preferable.