I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The blurb on the back gives a synopsis of a great story, a tragic accident of technology, but the boring family with their self important roles in life just don't do it for me.
The first chapter, just a page and a half, starts really well with the description of a young girl, Daisy, filming herself doing an erotic dance which becomes a striptease and a sexual act. The next few chapters back pedal a few days in the life of Jake who then meets Daisy at a party. Jake has no real interest in Daisy (he is in lust with Audrey) but kisses and fumbles with her all the same. When things get a bit too hot for Jake he is rather unpleasant to Daisy and ridicules her about being too young in front of several of his friends including Audrey. The next day Daisy emails the film she has made of herself to Jake as if to say `do you think I'm too young now?' Jake then forwards the film to one friend. As expected, the film is forwarded all around the school, town and beyond. From here the book has such promise but unfortunately seems to fall a bit flat. The family aren't particularly likeable; the father always in `very important' meetings and the mother turning up to a school day event stoned. The big disappointment was the ending - there just wasn't one. The final chapter jumped forwards a few years, (don't want to give too much away) we learn that Daisy works at Goldman Sachs and Jake has `moved away'. That's not a proper ending - what happened to Jake and all the legal technicalities surrounding his life that were mentioned earlier in the book ? and his friends ? his adopted sister ? his fathers job ? his parents relationship ? and Audrey ?
The writing style I found difficult to read, full of acronyms and phrases we are all expected to know - at times it made me feel like a dumbo being talked to by a smart alec, and parts I just couldn't understand because of strong Americanisms. Maybe the book is made for the American audience or maybe I'm just too English.
The book had great promise with a story surrounding a modern topical issue but didn't quite live up to expectations.
Modern plot that attempts to explore three things; misuse of the internet, breakdown of the family unit and the vulnerability of the very young. "The Beautiful Life" is undoubtedly well written but I'm afraid the concept didn't work for me prinicpally because of the characters; they're all far too shallow and one dimensional to carry the weight of the story. We're introduced to a "perfect American family" and then we're asked to watch what happens to that family when the son makes a mistake. Now; this isn't a small mistake it's an absolute whopper but, I can't believe for one second that his parents would have dealt with this major crisis in the way that they do, and that's the problem...unbelievable characterisation. It's possible that the author's being ironic and that the perfect family was never perfect in the first place, if she was then that irony was completely lost on me and the plot remains unexplained. Not a long book, easy to read though I wouldn't call it a page turner and there's never any real tension.
"Nothing goes away now. Forgetting is over".
The Bergamots, Richard and Lizzie, are a typical modern American family: half Jewish, with a 15-year-old son of their own, Jake, and a six-year-old girl they adopted from China. Recently moved to Manhattan after Richard, a university administrator, was headhunted by a New York university, they are settling in to their new -- typically-modern American -- life, when it all goes horribly wrong, as Jake makes a catastrophic error of judgement in an incident involving a besotted 13-year-old girl and the lawyers are called in.
It's a very short novel, little more than 200 pages, and I found it unsatisfying.
The problems are twofold. Firstly, the novel is based around the ubiquity of the Internet, which makes it seem opportunistic, as if the author looked for something zeitgeisty to write about and settled on this. It couldn't have been written 10 years ago, before the rise of the Net, and will probably be irrelevant in another ten years.
Secondly, and more importantly, is the characterisation. The Bergamots are a smug pair -- both working class people made good and convinced of their own perfection, which makes them deeply unsympathetic. Richard's father had told him to treat girls honourably, with respect; Richard tells Jake to practice safe sex; he genuinely seems to think that this is the same message. Richard's father was wise but Richard and Lizzie's generation seem to have lost the knack of raising children and it is here, I suppose, that the true heart of the novel lies. "They are too accomplished. They have accumulated too much. They expect too much. They demand too much. Their love is crippling."
Even the 13-year-old `victim' does not engage the reader's sympathy.
The media make life hell for anyone who transgresses in the 21st century, blowing things up out of all proportion and ensuring that their wrongdoings are disseminated as widely as possible. I don't need a novel to tell me this. I see it in the British press every day, although I suspect that the American press are not quite so loathsome. Perhaps that's the problem: that this is an American novel which doesn't travel.
Schulman writes well enough, but with a heavy hand. I spotted one joke in the entire novel: at the end, when Richard, marginalised from his job by the scandal, heads off for a shiny new position at Lehman Brothers.
on 25 March 2012
Technically the premise of this novel - a teenage boy who thoughtlessly forwards a pornographic email to his friends - should have been gripping. In fact I trudged through the story like I was wearing wellingtons, and only got to the end because I'm a stubborn person who doesn't like Not Finishing books. The characters are unsympathetic and uninteresting; the family is like an onion: layered, but you never get beneath the outer skin. I found the way that the event was handled, and the subsequent outcry and outcome, unbelievable, and the end of the book was just a complete anticlimax. This was a disappointing read and not one I would recommend to anyone.
This is a bit of strange book. It was relatively absorbing to read and not poorly written, and I was interested to find out how the plot progressed, but I nevertheless found it unenjoyable and a little irritating. It is told from the point of view of three characters, all of whom were realistic and identifiable but none of whom were particularly likeable. I understood their frustrations but I didn't really care about them.
The plot is quite slow and at times non-existant. The first third to half of the book introduces you to the mother, father and teenage boy Jake; the 'email incident' then occurs, and the rest of the book tells you how they deal with it, which is not particularly interesting or unusual: it is how any of us would probably deal with it. I kept expecting something more to happen, but towards the end things just didn't seem to be going anywhere. However, a few pages before the book ended things picked up a little, with an event that felt surprisingly shocking given how mundane it is, and a glimpse of the future ahead of the central characters. Ultimately though, I found it unsatisfying, though the last couple of pages unexpectedly brought me to tear.
I also found that the language used throughout the book grated on me, much like the characters. It is overblown to the point of being tedious; the author seems to think she is writing great literature, but the truth is that she doesn't really have anything new or groundbreaking to say. Her points can be summed up as: Money can't bring you happiness, and children are exposed to sex too young. This is probably true, but not surprising to any of us.
In conclusion, this is essentially a realistic but tawdry little tale about the breakdown of a 'beautiful life'. It's not something I would recommend to any of my friends or wish to read again, but it's not what I would call a 'bad' book either.
on 7 April 2012
I had heard this book reviewed and praised in the NYT Book Review podcast and it whetted my appetite.
Jake, fifteen years old and relatively new to NY city living, goes to a party where he rejects the advances of a thirteen year old girl, telling her she is too young. The following day, she sends him a sexually explicit video by email and he, not knowing how to deal with it, forwards it to a friend. Over the weekend it goes viral. The book documents what happens to his family and their lives after the email.
Other reviewers have rightly said that if this incident had happened in Britain (where I live), it would have been forgotten after a few days and the repercussions would have been fewer; for me one of the (few) interesting things about the novel was how things are viewed differently in middle class New York. It set out a very clear picture of the fragility of middle class existence. However, while the concept is an original one (which I suppose is why the book has been talked about so much) the execution was not fully carried out. I didn't care for the adult characters at all, and most of the time I found their actions irrational. (I did like the joke at the end when the husband considers another job offer though!)
I do think this book would be a good book group choice, as there are lots of themes to discuss, it is quite short and my experience is that a less than satisfactory book (which this sadly is) leads to a much better discussion. However , it was not the great read I had been expecting from the hype and I would not rush to read anything else by this author.
on 8 August 2012
I approached this book with high expectations. The theme is highly topical and I also have an interest in the USA and family life there. For some reason, however, I could not warm to any of the three central characters. None seemed particualrly likeable although i had most sympathy for the son, the protagonist. It was very interesting to read about New York life and the cultural norms. The book seemed to fizzle out though and seemed rather superficial. The writer has a good style. It may just have been my failure to care much about this family.
"This Beautiful Life" opens with a video made by a thirteen year old girl. In it she dances to Beyoncé whilst performing a sex act with a baseball bat. Over the course of the book we discover why she made it, who she sends it too, and the far-reaching consequences of that action for the Bergamot family.
Liz and Richard have left an idyllic life in upstate New York for a Manhattan apartment and a prestigious new job for Richard. Liz, highly-educated but careerless, devotes her energies to raising their children Jake and Coco. However, the video and Jake's role in it pushes the family to breaking point.
Schulman is a talented writer: her characterization of spirited six-year old Coco, for example, is superb and her descriptions of teenage life felt horribly real. At other times, however, the writing did not feel tight enough and I sometimes found it hard to care about the spoilt characters and their New York lives. This is a short novel and I felt it really hit its stride in the middle section, but consequently the ending felt slightly rushed. Despite these reservations, I did on the whole enjoy "This Beautiful Life" and I'm glad to have been introduced to Schulman's work.
Richard and Liz have the perfect life. They have recently moved to Manhattan with their two children - 15 year old Jake and their adopted daughter, Coco who is 6 years old. It could be said that they are living the American Dream. Both come from working class backgrounds but through hard work and a good education, they have steadily climbed the social ladder. Richard has just started a new, well paid job and is all set to move up the career ladder even further. Liz no longer has to work and spends her time just like the other wealthy mothers she meets - taking yoga classes, shopping, lunching and generally trying to fit in with the other mothers. Life changes, however, when a 13 year old girl emails a pornographic film of herself to Jake. Without even thinking about it, Jake forwards the email to his best friend, who forwards it to his friends, who forward it to their friends and so on, and so on. In no time at all, the email has gone round the world. With this simple click of a button, Liz and Richard find that their perfect life has imploded.
This is a cautionary tale for the age of the internet. It shows the inherent dangers of the internet and the absolute necessity of stopping and thinking before sending any email. Once you have sent it you cannot take it back.
My only criticism of this book is that I did not really warm to, or feel much empathy for, the characters of Richard and Liz who remained somewhat two-dimensional throughout. As a result I did not care very much about what happened to them. The story would have had greater impact if these characters had been developed further so that we sympathised with them to a greater degree. Jake, the teenage son, is a more rounded character. He is a typically angst ridden teenager and we do feel sorry for him. A second's thoughtlessness shatters his life in a way he could never have imagined.
On the whole I enjoyed the book and I am happy to recommend it.
A modem American family with problems, these mainly bought about by their son Jake.
The internet has laid blame at many a person's doorstep, this time with a teenager who sends an explicit email, it all spirals out of control and the damage limitation done by the parents might not be enough to save all those concerned.
Reading the blurb it did sound akin to 'The Slap', but after reading 'This Perfect Life' have decided nothing at all, 'The Slap' had a lot more depth and something about it, this one not. The author did make a good way of having you dislike Richard and Liz though, so all in all a good character assassination of the Amercian couple that you would hate to have as your neighbours.
It sounded a lot more appealing than it actually was, alright I was forced to finish it due to having a wry neck and therefore not able to move about and do the usual things. But wished I had picked another book for waiting around at the hospital with. A hard one for me to get into.