Friday, July 15, 2011

This Beautiful Life

Written in high-definition prose, Helen Schulman’s new novel, This Beautiful Life (HarperColins), presents every parent’s nightmare. The family quartet of This Beautiful Life is a compact Upper West Side enlightened, progressive nuclear unit. The father, Richard, is a super-competent Mr. Cool; his wife, Elizabeth, is a harried multi-tasker navigating the treacherous lanes of playdates, private school, and competitive motherhood; their children are adopted Chinese daughter Coco and tousled teenager Jake. The house of cards (shown on the cover) symbolically collapses with just one mouse click after a nubile eighth-grader sends Jake a skeevy video, Jake thoughtlessly forwards it to a classmate, and the video goes viral. Before you know it, cultural warfare has broken out and The New York Observer, the New York Post, and Gawker have turner werewolf on everyone involved. Far more intense and specifically observed than any soap opera or morality lesson, This Beautiful Life astringently peels away the panic and dissatisfaction of staying apace in Manhattan’s fast track in the ago of Bloomberg, where maintaining the trappings of success itself becomes a form of serfdom.

review by James Wolcott
Vanity Fair, August 2011, p48

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