helen schulman

Make sure you start Helen Schulman’s new novel, This Beautiful Life on a Friday night, so that when you find yourself compelled to stay up all hours reading it, you can take the rest of the weekend, not only to recover, but to think long and hard about the advantages for your kids of home schooling; cloistered convents, kibbutzes, monasteries and ashrams; or, perhaps, a semester abroad program in Antarctica.
—  Maureen Corrigan reviews Helen Schulman’s This Beautiful Life
Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

Helen Schulman’s This Beautiful Life is one of the hottest novels of the summer, and with good reason. The book explores a topic that strikes fear into the heart of parents everywhere - children and the internet.

The Bergamots have the perfect family - stay at home mom with a Ph.D. in her back pocket, career driven father interested in helping redevelop Harlem, star student teenage son who has never caused a problem and beautiful, spirited, Chinese adopted daughter. But in less than a second, the Bergamots well structured life comes crashing down like a house of cards.

The Bergamots recently moved to Manhattan from the quiet suburbs so that the career driven father could accept his dream job at a city university. High school student Jake and kindergarten age Coco both enter elite private schools in the city. They both find friends easily and soon begin to attend the parties of Manhattan’s most wealthy children. For Jake, one night, this means going to the home of Daisy Cavanaugh, a 13-year old, who, left home alone for the weekend, decides to throw a party.

After drinking too much, 15-year old Jake takes things further with Daisy than he would like, but spurs her further advances. The next day, waking up in a haze, Jake finds an e-mail from Daisy, a video strip tease she made just for him, followed by the 13-year old simulating sex with a baseball bat.

Was this pornography? Was it even sexy? He thought it was sexy, but he wasn’t sure. He felt hard and he felt soft. It was like a hot potato. He had to fling it to someone else.

Jake, unnerved, unsure what to feel, forwards the video without really thinking, to one of his new friends. Within hours, the video has gone viral, claiming the name “Daisy Up to Bat.”

The consequences of this one action become the focus of Schulman’s novel. Jake and Daisy are, of course, effected, but so are their parents, Jake’s sister, their friends.

It’s just that this beautiful life…I can’t mange it. And I don’t want it.

How can one flick of a teenager’s finger cause a video to literally be seen around the world?

Who is to blame in this situation - the 13 year old girl who made the video, the 15 year old boy who forwarded it, the parents of the children, the private school system they attend, the elite society they belong to?

Schulman balances these questions and others with care, recognizing the timeliness of the issue and the frailty of the lives it effects.

The New York Times certainly seems to enjoy Helen Schulman’s new book, The Beautiful Life, “…the story of the Bergamots, a family of four whose expensive new Manhattan life comes crashing down when 15-year-old Jake forwards to a friend a sexually explicit video made for him, unsolicited, by a 13-year-old girl named Daisy Cavanaugh.”

First, they reviewed it in the Books section on July 24, followed by the Sunday Book Review, and then in ArtsBeat, where they also provided a podcast from “Inside the New York Times Book Review,” featuring discussion with author Helen Schulman.

That’s a lot of coverage in The New York Times, huh?

Do YOU have an urge to talk about the book yourself? We’ve got you covered.

92YTribeca’s book group, The Literate Parent, is going to read This Beautiful Life in September. Helen Schulman will be present for this literary salon, where attendees will be able to ask her questions and discuss the book with her directly. More info and tickets are available.