This Beautiful Life
The basic synopsis of this book is that the Bergamots, a family of four who have recently moved to New York City, encounter a major problem. The teenage son, Jake, receives a sexually explicit video from a thirteen year old girl, and emails it to his friend in the misguided hopes of getting some advice from him. Unfortunately for Jake, and the girl it goes viral. It’s basically the story of how the Bergamots deal with it as a family. The girl’s point of view is only really addressed directly in a short coda.
It’s a well written book for the most part, but I didn’t really feel that strong a connection with either of Jake’s parents. Richard is a workaholic, very much dedicated to being the breadwinner, and there is a hint of irony in the fact that his job involves the safety of children, but he is unable to make sure that his son acts in a responsible way. Liz, the mother is content to let him be independent, and doesn’t really take a active role in their daughter’s life either.
There are some unusual moments, such as when the headmaster calls Jake into his office. He makes Jake and Liz watch the video in his presence, something that I wasn’t expecting, because although Jake and the girl are students of his, the incident happened outside of school time. It strictly speaking doesn’t have anything to do with the school.
Another thing I didn’t really understand, there are parts of Jake’s perspective that made me think that he was a little odd. He has a crush on a girl named Audrey, and fantasises about ‘Hot golden pee came sluicing out of her. He thought about getting down on his knees and catching it in a cup made of his hands.’ He has dreams about the fact ‘his mother’s skin was falling off her fingers,’ when he’s thinking about the event.
The characters are eccentric, and I didn’t sympathise with them at all. I finished reading it, and wouldn’t be put off reading another of Schulman’s books, but not if the book featured any of the characters from this one.