Thursday, November 03, 2011
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
I was so intrigued when I heard the subject matter of this book. At first glance, it looks like one of those books that delves into the dystopian nature of affluent society. On some levels, it is. However, Schulman adds an interesting twist.
The Bergamots are a fairly grounded, liberal-minded family whose lives are changed when they move from a comfortable upstate college town to New York City for Richard Bergamot's new job at a large university. Their lives are thrown into disarray be their entry into a new level of elite society. Liz Bergamot gives up her academic career completely to care for her children in their new life. Young Coco seems to adjust well but 15-year-old Jake has trouble fitting in at his new elite private school. Everything seems to fall apart when Jake opens an e-mail the morning following an unchaperoned party to find a sexually-explicit video from an 8th-grade admirer. Having a hard time dealing with the complex array of feeling that the video elicits, Jake sends it to a friend who then forwards it on. The video goes viral and the fall-out for the Bergamots and the other individuals involved are profound.
I think this novel is particularly timely as it deals with the issues stemming from social media and the internet. It is so hard for young people to grasp the fact that anything they do on the internet can get out to a wider audience or possibly affect them forever. They don't always understand the far-reaching consequences of their actions. While it is interesting to see how the various teens deal with what happens, I also appreciate Schulman's view of how the adults act in this crisis. No one comes out unscathed and no one seems to act within an appropriate ethical realm.
While this book brings up really interesting truths about social media and society today, I was a little disappointed. Schulman had great ideas and great characters but the book felt a little too short. It seems like there was so much more to say and she just didn't go deep enough. The book really left me wanting more.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations. Great ideas and interesting characters but a little too short and undeveloped. I wish she had taken it farther.