While the theme of This Beautiful Life is a timely one, the narrative dragged and disappointed many of the members in my book club.
The storyline follows the Bergamot family as they deal with a scandal that threatens their sense of security and identity.
Fifteen-year old Jake attends an unchaperoned party with his new friends in an affluent district of New York City. He briefly makes out with Daisy Cavanaugh, the twelve-year old hostess, but rejects her offer of sex. The next morning, Jake wakes up and finds an email in his inbox. Daisy has made and sent him a sexually explicit video. Flattered and confused, Jake forwards the email to a friend, who then forwards it to another friend. Within hours, the video has gone viral.
As Liz and Richard—Jake’s parents—react to the video, they reveal the cracks in their relationship. Art historian Liz resents giving up a teaching position so that Richard could move up in academia. The once busy and fulfilled mother now spends her days overseeing the life of her children. She is unhinged by the scandal and feels like a “modern-day Hester Prynne” as she moves through the world of the Manhattan upper classes. Richard, on the other hand, is consumed by his executive role in a large New York university and reluctantly handles “this thing with his kid.”
Many of us felt that the adults made poor choices as they tried to help their son navigate this brave, new world where privacy and shame are so easily compromised. We would also have liked more chapters devoted to Daisy. While she is described as “rich, spoiled and deprived,” we are not introduced to her parents and see very little of her after the original incident. So many questions come to mind: If she was that upset, why was she giving out autographs at school? Did she get counseling? How did her parents react?
I found the ending scenes rushed and crammed with ten years of future happenings. Author Helen Schulman could have left some of these details to our imagination.