This Beautiful Life

Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

12 of 16
This Beautiful Life
240 pages; Harper
Teenage girl e-mails sexually explicit video of herself to boy she likes; boy forwards it; said video goes viral, lives are upended. Out of this ripped-from-cable-news premise, Helen Schulman has created a rich, engrossing, and surprisingly nuanced novel exploring timeless questions of guilt and responsibility. This Beautiful Life (Harper) unfolds through the eyes of Elizabeth and Richard Bergamot and their son, Jake. It begins with Jake clicking open a video meant only for him, from a girl he barely knows. "Her mouth filled the screen. Purple lip gloss, clear braces. 'Still think I'm too young?'" says 13-year-old Daisy. The video leaves Daisy exposed in every sense of the word. It is fundamentally wrong on so many levels that even 15-year-old Jake senses it. "He thought it was sexy, but he wasn't sure. He felt hard and he felt soft. It was like a hot potato. He had to fling it to someone else." In the ensuing scandal, Jake and Daisy are publicly reduced to labels. She: slut, predator, victim. He: cad, exploiter, victim. In reality, the novel's characters, and moral dilemmas, are compellingly complex. Even Jake's parents—whose marriage all but implodes under the pressure—feel a mix of protectiveness and disgust toward their son. Schulman gives us no tidy resolution, only decent people who suffer terribly for stupid mistakes—theirs and others'. Are the consequences fair? Who knows? But then, fairness has nothing to do with it.
— Karen Holt