Monday, July 16, 2012

This Beautiful Life

This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman

Not to be confused with Vicki Forman's wonderful memoir, This Lovely Life, This Beautiful Life contains characters who are difficult to like.

Jake Bergamot, 15, goes to an unchaperoned party where a 13-year-old, Daisy, flirts outrageously with him. He ends up becoming entangled with her that alcohol-soaked evening--he's flattered, they're both lonely--until his friends appear and mock him for robbing the cradle. He shrugs her off, telling her that she's too young for him.

Then the next day an ex-rated video Daisy had made arrives in his e-mail. Shocked and a bit flattered, Jake sends the video to his best friend, who forwards it to a few other friends, and then--you guessed it--it goes viral. Jake gets kicked out of school, and his family gets a lawyer.

Jake's parents, the highly educated but unfulfilled stay-at-home mom Liz and his workaholic, detached father Richard react to the situation in different ways. His younger sister, Coco, becomes neglected as their family dynamics spiral out of control.

This book explores the changing technology landscape for teenagers. Nowadays when teenagers make a mistake, if any of it is on the Internet, it never goes away. Adolescence is loaded with pitfalls.

As mom of a teenager, this book freaked me out a bit. Even though my son is not a partier and would not be likely to receive such a video, you just never know. It did give me an opener to share with him the plot of the book. He responded immediately that he would never forward such a video...but you know...teenage boys. They're prone to impulsiveness without thinking through a situation's consequences.

The story is set in an upper-class private school in New York City. The other thing I realized while reading this book is just how out of place and stifled I would feel in such an environment.

Jake's mom, Liz, sees him as the victim and Daisy as the evil girl who wrecked his life. I've heard similar tendencies in other moms of sons. She's annoying, as she is meant to be. She realizes, somehow, that she should be able to respond in a different way to what is going on, but she cannot.

Consequently, her son is left floundering on his own, without a real friend or comfort in the world. I would hope that it would be different if such a thing were to happen in my own family, but teenage boys can certainly be difficult to reach.

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