Author: Helen Schulman
Atlantic RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
WHAT if one email ripped your family apart?
When the Bergamots move to a new well-to-do neighbourhood, they’re unsure how well they’ll adapt. Soon though, Richard is consumed by his executive role and Liz, who has given up her academic career, is hectically playing mother to four-year-old Coco and fifteen-year-old Jake. But the day Jake unthinkingly forwards to his friend a sexually explicit email sent to him by a young girl is the last day of the Bergamots’ comfortable middle-class existence. Faced with impossible choices, what Richard and Liz do next risks destroying not only their marriage, their daughter and their place in the community, but also Jake – the child they have set out to protect.
If it was you, your son, what would you do? This is the question I asked myself as I read this book. I have sons in this age group and the idea that they could be caught up in something like that horrifies me. As the characters make their choices, it’s easy to judge them, but realistically, would you, caught in the same unfolding situation, do any better? Would I? Would my kids? I hope so – so much that I had to bring up the topic with the boys after I finished the book.
On many levels, this is a devastating novel, one that stayed with me for a long time after I finished. Faced with scandal and a no-win situation, the family makes individual and corporate choices that in turn jeopardises their family unit – nothing is ever the same. Author Helen Schulman skilfully explores themes of privacy, family, morality and changing relationships with acute insight and sensitivity. Her writing is sharp – simply said, this is a hard book to put down, despite its confronting nature.

This Beautiful Life is such a well-timed book, with increased media focus on the impact of cyber-bullying. I would recommend this for all teachers and parents of teenagers. Its potential for debate would make it an excellent book club read, or even senior secondary novel.

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