Monday, February 20, 2012
This Beautiful Life: A Novel by Helen Schulman
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.
Worst nightmare ever! Or at least it would be, if I had children. Okay, if I had children, it would probably be one of my worst nightmares. I mean, come on, what parent wouldn't be horrified to learn that their son had been a part of a scandal so huge that it would threaten to derail his high school career? In fact, a scandal so provocative that it could even damage your own career aspirations, social ties and possibly cause your entire family unit to implode. I'm actually convinced I was reading a Lifetime movie - this book was just so addictive, mesmerizing and completely chock full of drama I couldn't help but envision it being played out as a Lifetime movie (yes I do watch those - for shame)!!
So, what is the nightmare scenario? Well, here goes: The Bergamot family reside in New York City and are happily enjoying a life filled with career highs, slumber parties, organic foods and everything else you can imagine a family of four enjoys. Dad is crazy-busy at work; mom is driving daughter, Coco, all over town to dance classes, doctor's appointments, and play dates; Coco is thriving at school with her gaggle of friends; and Jake is simply trying to make it through high school, all the while hoping his crush, Audrey, will finally notice him. However, everything is about to change for this seemingly happy family of four - with the click of a button.
Jake winds up at a party being thrown by an eighth-grader named Daisy - no parents are home, alcohol flows freely and everyone who is anyone seems to be there. (seriously, all these high school kids are hanging out with a bunch of twelve and thirteen year old kids? That just doesn't make sense to me, but then again I'm thirty-three, so what do I know of the social customs of today's youths. But I digress.) At this party, Jake drinks and makes-out with Daisy, the hostess of the party. Daisy is crushing hard on Jake and even tries to get him to head up to her bedroom with him, but Jake sobers up enough to realize that he shouldn't even be kissing Daisy (she's too young) and that he needs to leave this party ASAP. He mainly sobers up, because Audrey (his crush) and several of his so-called friends have witnessed him and Daisy together and well, Jake is feeling foolish and embarrassed. Anyhow, once at home, Jake receives an email from Daisy. Unsure why she would email him, Jake clicks open the video she has attached and soon enough he finds himself watching Daisy in all her glory. Shocked by what he's just seen, Jake immediately forwards the sexually explicit video to his best friend, and well, you can imagine what happens next. Yep, the video goes viral and soon enough people from out of town are asking Jake if he's seen this crazy video with a girl named Daisy in it. At school, boys high-five Jake and girls scowl at him - he is infamous. As for Daisy, she's signing autographs and seems to be taking it all in stride. However, things quickly go from up to down for Jake when he's called into the head of the school's office. And, this is pretty much where everything goes downhill for the entire Bergamot family.
Now, I'm not going to tell you what happens next, suffice it to say, everyone is affected by Jake's viral video. The happy home is no longer a happy one. Disappointment, fear, annoyance, and cabin fever ensue, along with trips to their attorney's office. All the while you are left wondering so many things: like what are my kids really up to when I'm not around to what kind of parents' leave their thirteen year old kid home alone all the time? Of course you also wonder, where Daisy would even get an idea to make a pornographic video from in the first place. Plus, why would Jake send the video to anyone and not realize the repercussions that would arise as a result. Seriously! Is everyone that naive? I know they are kids, but their actions are far from child-like. And aside from the kids, you are left to think about the role that the Internet plays in your family's life and how a tool that is supposed to be used for research or for booking plane tickets, could wind up ruining a family's livelihood.
Talk about a riveting read! Schulman has created a story so tantalizing that you can not and will not put it down until you have turned the last page! Her writing is terrific - you are captivated from page one! The characters are fully realized - you either hate them or empathize with them. And the flow of the story rides high and low, just as the Bergamot's emotions go up and down. This is one book that you do not want to miss! It is undoubtedly a must read! I will be recommending This Beautiful Life to everyone and anyone I know.