This Beautiful Life

( 57 )

Overview

When fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot receives—and then forwards to a friend—a sexually explicit video that an eighth-grade admirer sent to him, the video goes viral within hours. The scandal that ensues threatens to shatter his family’s sense of security and identity—and, ultimately, their happiness. This Beautiful Life is a devastating, clear-eyed portrait of modern life that will have readers debating their assumptions about family, morality, and the choices we make in the name...

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Overview

When fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot receives—and then forwards to a friend—a sexually explicit video that an eighth-grade admirer sent to him, the video goes viral within hours. The scandal that ensues threatens to shatter his family’s sense of security and identity—and, ultimately, their happiness. This Beautiful Life is a devastating, clear-eyed portrait of modern life that will have readers debating their assumptions about family, morality, and the choices we make in the name of love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this sobering tale of how adolescent stupidity can have criminal and social repercussions, Schulman (A Day at the Beach) explores what happens when a privileged teen boy forwards to friends a sexually explicit video made for him by a classmate. Jake Bergamot, 15, has recently moved to New York City from Ithaca, N.Y., with his parents, Richard and Liz, and his kindergarten-aged sister, Coco. Life in Ithaca was easy and idyllic, but after Richard takes a job in the city, that all changes. Jake is enrolled at Wildwood, a New York City prep school where he makes a new circle of friends and attends wild parties, one of which leads to the video—later made by a girl at the party who Jake refuses to sleep with because, among other reasons, she's too young—that could determine the direction his young life will take. Jake is a good student and a nice kid, and his parents are rocked to their foundations by their son being snared in a child pornography scandal. The plot is ripe for salacious tabloid treatment, but Schulman sidesteps easy shock and hyperbole to turn out a provocative story of ethics and responsibilities in the ever-shifting digital age. (Aug.)
Library Journal
All's well with the Bergamot family, new to New York's Upper West Side—until son Jake receives a sexually explicit video from an eighth-grade admirer that in a moment of cockiness and confusion he sends to a friend. Soon it's viral, Jake is suspended from his private school, and the whole family starts tearing at the seams. Schulman's quietly thoughtful A Day at the Beach was one of those rare novels about 9/11 that didn't exploit the event, and I expect the same here. The first pages are sobering, elegant, and fluid.
People
“Schulman’s topical, unsettling new novel [is] set in Manhattan’s world of private-school privilege but chillingly relatable for parents anywhere…. Raising tough questions about child rearing, morality and the way the Internet both frees and imprisons, Schulman’s story resonates.”
People
“Schulman’s topical, unsettling new novel [is] set in Manhattan’s world of private-school privilege but chillingly relatable for parents anywhere…. Raising tough questions about child rearing, morality and the way the Internet both frees and imprisons, Schulman’s story resonates.” (3 ½ out of 4 stars)
Library Journal
Fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot stared at his computer screen in disbelief. With one keystroke he had forwarded a very private video to a trusted friend and thus out into the cyberworld, unleashing a firestorm that will bring his family's carefully constructed house of cards tumbling down. Nine months into a move from the idyllic Cornell campus in Ithaca, NY, to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Richard Bergamot is too wrapped up in a challenging new career to notice that his wife, Lizzie, her Ph.D. languishing in a drawer, is suffering adjustment issues. Lizzie, whose day revolves around the überscheduled social life of her precocious six-year-old fails to sense that Jake is struggling, too. When the crisis strikes, readers will feel torn between averting their eyes and watching in dismay as simmering resentments surface and this once beautiful life implodes. VERDICT Schulman, whose awards include a Pushcart Prize and a Sundance Fellowship, has written a painfully honest novel that examines with precision the delicate balancing act needed to nurture a family through these manic times. Reminiscent of Anita Shreve's Testimony and Anna Quindlen's Every Last One, this book will appeal to readers who thrive on discussing moral ambiguities. [See Prepub Alert, 1/31/11.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL
Maria Russo
…riveting…as much as this book fiercely inhabits our shared online reality, it operates most powerfully on a deeper level, posing an enduring question about American values—is it worth leaving a perfectly good life to grab a chance for something more?…Schulman somehow makes all these characters lovable, even when their least attractive qualities are on display.
—The New York Times
Mary McGarry Morris
Schulman has managed to capture this bizarre of-the-moment tragedy in a novel that remains deeply humane and sensitive…This Beautiful Life is a powerful story of a good family in crisis. Schulman vividly portrays the circularity of events and the instantaneous connections of lives caught in a very real world wide web. How like the butterfly's wings when the mere tap of a key can unleash storms of such unimaginable consequence.
—The Washington Post
People (3.5 out of 4 stars)
“Schulman’s topical, unsettling new novel [is] set in Manhattan’s world of private-school privilege but chillingly relatable for parents anywhere…. Raising tough questions about child rearing, morality and the way the Internet both frees and imprisons, Schulman’s story resonates.”
People (3 ½ out of 4 stars)
“Schulman’s topical, unsettling new novel [is] set in Manhattan’s world of private-school privilege but chillingly relatable for parents anywhere…. Raising tough questions about child rearing, morality and the way the Internet both frees and imprisons, Schulman’s story resonates.”
The Oprah Magazine O
“A rich, engrossing, and surprisingly nuanced novel exploring timeless questions of guilt and responsiblity.”
Maria Russo
“Riveting. . . . As much as this book fiercely inhabits our shared online reality, it operates most powerfully on a deeper level, posing an enduring question about American values.”
Mary McGarry Morris
“This Beautiful Life is as much a bracing novel as a timely cautionary tale…. Schulman has managed to capture this bizarre of-the-moment tragedy in a novel that remains deeply humane and sensitive…. This Beautiful Life is a powerful story of a good family in crisis.”
(3 1/2 out of 4 stars) - People Magazine
"Schulman’s topical, unsettling new novel [is] set in Manhattan’s world of private-school privilege but chillingly relatable for parents anywhere…. Raising tough questions about child rearing, morality and the way the Internet both frees and imprisons, Schulman’s story resonates."
Tom Perrotta
This Beautiful Life isn’t just an intimate look at family breaking down under intense pressure; it’s also a sharp and unsparing indictment of a culture in search of scapegoats. In this timely and provocative novel, Helen Schulman maps out the contours of a contemporary American nightmare.”
Elizabeth Gilbert
“A gripping, potent, and blisteringly well-written story of family, dilemma, and consequence. While the setting is thoroughly modern, the drama feels as ancient and inevitable as a Greek myth. I read this book with white-knuckled urgency, and finished it in tears. Helen Schulman is an absolutely brilliant novelist.”
Jonathan Dee
“In the hands of a lesser writer, this might have been simply a book about a scandal; Helen Schulman, though, has a long enough view, and a large enough heart, to have found in that scandal’s outlines a mournful and affecting portrait of our brave new social world.”
Kate Christensen
“Helen Schulman’s trenchant social observations and precise, lucid writing are brought to bear on the timely story of a crisis in the life of the Bergamot family…. Schulman takes on a controversial topic with depth, evenhandedness, and warmth. Spare and focused, This Beautiful Life packs a wallop.”
Hannah Gerson
“In another writer’s hands, it might come out as a cautionary tale, but Schulman is careful not to paint anyone as villain or victim.”
Jim Shepard
“A harrowing and moving account of just how much twenty-first-century technology has magnified the scope of the kind of imbecilities in which teenagers excel. It’s poignant about the fragility of even those homes that are seemingly invulnerably insulated by privilege and caring and vigilant parents.”
Jonathan Miles
“With psychological acuity and cinematic pacing, Helen Schulman takes a hypercontemporary nightmare…and parlays it into a wildly compelling novel about parenting, privilege, and the fragility of happiness…. This Beautiful Life is moving, disturbing, and grandly incisive.”
Jennifer Egan
“Helen Schulman is one of the most gifted writers of her generation.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062024381
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/2/2011
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,437,983
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Schulman

Helen Schulman is the author of the novels A Day at the Beach, P.S., The Revisionist, and Out of Time, and the short story collection Not a Free Show. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Vanity Fair, Time, Vogue, GQ, the Paris Review, and the New York Times Book Review. An associate professor of writing at The New School, she lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

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Read an Excerpt

This Beautiful Life

A Novel
By Helen Schulman

Harper

Copyright © 2011 Helen Schulman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780062024381


Chapter One

Her mouth filled the screen. Purple lip gloss, clear braces.
"Still think I'm too young?"
She leaned over, the fixed lens of the camera catching a tiny
smattering of blemishes on her cheek, like a comet's spray. Her
hair had been bleached white, with long blond roots, and most of
it was pulled back and up into a chunky ponytail above the three
plastic hoops climbing the rim of her ear.
The song began to play, Beyoncé. I love to love you, baby. She
stepped aside, revealing her room in all its messy glory. Above
the bed was a painting; the central image was a daisy. A large lava
lamp bubbled and gooed on the nightstand.
She was giggling offstage. Suddenly, the screen was a swirl
of green plaid. Filmstrips of color in knife pleats. Her short skirt
swayed along with her round hips. A little roll of ivory fat nestled
above the waistband. She wore a white tank top, which she
took off, her hands quickly finding the cups of her black bra. The
breasts inside were small, and at first she covered them with her
palms, fingers splayed like scallop shells. Then she unhooked the
bra in the front and they popped out as if on springs. Her hands
did a little fan dance as they reached below her hemline and lifted
up her skirt.
She'd done all of this for his benefit. To please him. To prove
him wrong. She reached out for the little toy baseball bat and the
next part was hard to watch, even if you knew what was coming.
Except it wasn't.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman Copyright © 2011 by Helen Schulman. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 57 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(8)

4 Star

(11)

3 Star

(12)

2 Star

(14)

1 Star

(12)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 57 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 13, 2011

    Excellent character driven short novel

    The plot of "My Beautiful Life" is well-described here already.

    What seems to have been missed in the reviews below is that the reason to read this book is the revelation of character. Despite the sensational premise, it's not about the plot. It's not a "beach read." And while suspenseful, it's best read not too quickly.

    Jake in particular, the 15 1/2 year old boy, is a tour de force. but his parents, the other two main characters, are well-drawn also if not as completely fleshed out. I'd have liked to have understood more, for example, about the mother's actual interest in art history as art & history, and not merely a career. I'd have liked a little more elaboration of Richard's conflict between his drive and gentler qualities. It's all explained, but I'd have liked to have seen the conflict.

    I found the ending satisfying and realistic.

    Definitely 5 stars.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A shattering novel

    I was able to relate to the characters in Helen Schulman's shattering novel, This Beautiful Life. Liz and Richard Bergamot lived in upstate New York, Ithaca, about 30 minutes from where I lived for 45 years. Richard got a fabulous offer for a job in Manhattan, doing work that he found meaningful and rewarding. The family moved to Manhattan. Fours years ago, my husband also received a job offer, doing something meaningful and rewarding, and off we went. Unlike Liz and Richard, our children were grown and off to college, so we did not have to uproot them and raise them in Manhattan. Jake is their 15 year-old-son, who had to leave the suburban beauty of Ithaca and navigate the urban center of Manhattan. Coco, their adopted Chinese daughter, took to Manhattan and all its charms like a duck to water. She was popular with all the "right" girls at school, and got invited to every fancy party. Liz transitioned from working part-time teaching art at the university in Ithaca to being one of the "ladies who lunch". Richard was consumed by his job, and I loved how Liz described him as "exuding competence. He was a self-cleaning oven. And even after all these years, Liz was not immune to the power of his good looks." The description of parenting of these children of privilege hits close to home for many parents today. "they are both too close to their children and too far away from the ground. They are too accomplished. They have accumulated too much. They expect too much. They demand too much. They even love their kids too much. This love is crippling in its own way." Jake receives a video from a very young girl he met at a party. It is a pornographic video she made of herself. He doesn't know what to do, and he sends it to his friend to get his opinion. His friend passes it on, and soon it has become viral; the whole world sees it. The life that the Bergamots have is turned upside down. Jake is suspended from his private school, and he may be prosecuted for distributing child pornography. Richard's boss forces him to lay low from his very public position because the story is all over the tabloids and they can't afford the bad publicity. Liz withdraws into her own world, refusing to get out bed most days, glued to her laptop computer. She watches the video of the girl endlessly, and that leads her to other pornography that she can't stop watching. Watching the family fall apart is devastating, and Schulman makes these characters so real that you ache for them. Reading it makes you think "there but for the grace of God and one bad decision go I". As parents we try to teach our children to make good decisions, and we hope that when they eventually do make a bad decision, as they all will, that it is one they can come back from. But in today's plugged-in world, where the click of a mouse can change one's life, making a bad decision can be life-altering. I cried a few times reading this novel, no more so than when Jake tells his dad that he screwed up again, and Richard says, "I'm your father. I'm always on your side." This is a good family, and how they try to live with what happened is something every parent can relate to, although we hope to never be tested as the Bergamots were. This book takes you on an emotional, heart-rending journey, one that will make you think about the fragility of the life you have.

    7 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2011

    Really bad...

    I'm sorry but this gratuitously vulgar, stale, self-absorbed book was a waste of $12. It is so overwritten and precious that I feel like I am reading some high school creative writing project.

    7 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012

    Long winded though short book

    I could not get into this book at all. I found I didn't care about these characters and there was no one I could relate to. They all felt flat to me. Also, the book seemed to go on and on, with her overly detailed and unnecessary descriptions, that I kept looking to see how many pages I had left till I finally finished it, and its only 162 pages! Usually I look to see how many pages I have left because I don't want to finish a book, here it couldn't come soon enough.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2011

    Disappointing

    I read the reviews in the Times and Post and loaded it on my e-reader. I liked the first 3/4 of the book (reading it at the beach) well enough, but really thought the last 1/4 and ending fell flat. So much more could have been done to develop and finish the story. Preferred Every Last One by Anna Quindlen to this as a story of a family in crisis.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2011

    Engrossing read!

    Realistic appraisal of life in private school in New York City fot the current generation of teens. This story will break your heart! West Orange Granny

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2011

    Throw This One in Your Beach Bag. . .

    This book, while overrated by the NY Times and the Washington Post reviewers, is definately in the "quick, juicy beach read" league. A true-life episode occured some years ago when a young girl's sex video went viral at an "elite" NYC private school, and these incidents, unfortunately, are now more common everywhere. The book's themes (it takes place in the pre-Facebook era!!)are interesting: the effects of the digital age on the family, affluenza, the cult of motherhood, etc. The book is not a comedy, but I did chuckle when one of the minor characters used "ERB" (referring to the test hat NYC 4 year-olds take to enter private school kindergarten) as a verb ("My kid ERB'd in" or something to that effect). But the sophomoric writing, hackneyed urban cliches and poorly-drawn, unlikeable main characters made it difficult for me to truly engage with this novel. The only character who came to life for me was the son, Jake, and there were passages, written from his perspective, that actually were heartbreaking (but I have a son near that age, so maybe I'm more vulnerable to Jake's story). This is a book that you can throw onto your e-reader or wait until it comes out in paperback or buy it and pack it up for the beach. It'll keep you entertained for an afternoon.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    DON'T POST AT MY BAR!!!!

    IT AIN'T FOR ADVERTISEMENTS!!! GO BE A SL.UT SOMEWHERE ELSE!!!!!

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2011

    Disappointed

    The plot line is very thin and it took just too long to develop in my opinion. Could have been a short story or novella. I was disappointed; expected more. Too much angst and not enough substance.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2013

    Miss holo

    Sits in a chair, feet propped up on her desk. She has her eyes closed.

    0 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2012

    Expected better

    This book sounded awesome but in reality its very predictable with no twist. Its a situation any teenager today can get into and fails to keep your attention. The chapters are primarily composed up of questions anyone with a brain would know that the main characters in that specific situation would ask of themselves.s

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2012

    a biased slice of NY life

    While the author attempts to illuminate the issues of the lack of privacy due to the internet age, the impulsive actions of adolescents, and unintended consequences, she sabotages her writing by tainting it with condescension toward her characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2012

    What???

    Hated it could have been a good story unnecssary sexual situations

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    Anna

    Bad you! I'll recommend the another book to you lol.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2012

    Very disappointing

    This could have been an engrossing storyline, particularly in light of how much privacy we've lost in this electronic age. However, this effort was a lost opportunity. Characterization is shallow. There was not a single character in this novel with whom I could identify or sympathize. The writing is choppy (the overuse of parentheses is particularly annoying in the first half of the book). I did give it two stars, simply because it left me feeling grateful that I don't live in the same world as these dishonest, neurotic and materialistic characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2012

    Gripping read, Flat ending

    I enjoyed this book but thought the ending could have been more developed.

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  • Posted November 27, 2011

    I loved this book!

    Not sure why it hasn't gotten better ratings, But I loved it.

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  • Posted August 29, 2011

    Literally could not put this book down...as a mother of twin 20 year old men, I could easily identify with Jake and his family, and felt that, "but for the grace of God, there go I."

    This book was selected as our book club's September reading - and when I read the prior reader reviews on the Barnes and Noble website, I was not sure that I wanted to spend $25 for a book that was so poorly rated. However, I am glad that I ordered it and have read it, as it is timely, pertinent and thought as well as discussion provoking. As a 4th and 5th grade Sunday School teacher, I like to keep abreast (no pun intended) of what things are happening in all facets in the lives of my students, including morally. This book rocked me to my core - not because it was inappropriate in any way - but rather because I realized how easily this could happen to anyone - and the devastating consequences that would result - on a myriad of levels. Highly, highly recommend reading this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2011

    real waste of money

    so sorry I didn't read the reviews before purchasing the audio book.

    poorly written and on the audio book I had to listen back to understand what was going on. really bad choice for me not to mention expensive.

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  • Posted August 21, 2011

    Much ado in NYC

    This book reminded me of Anna Quindlen's Rise and Shine, another NYC novel, where one careless moment ruined several lives. The book was tedious to read, full of larger than life achievers living in a world far beyond the reach of us mortals. There was not one likable character with whom to empathize, children were either over-coddled or neglected, while adults wore themselves to a nub coping with their high-flying lives. My reation to both books: Thank God I don't live there!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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