This Beautiful Life

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am


This Beautiful Life
by Helen Schulman
Grove Atlantic

Helen Schulman's explosive, but nuanced new novel has a wonderful premise. The Bergamot family lives a rarefied, if deceptively happy, existence in New York. Handsome, slightly vague Richard is a star academic who mixes research with urban planning in the city's poorest areas. His wife, Liz, is beautiful but insecure in her new surroundings. Their children (teenager Jake and adopted Chinese girl Coco) are smart, slightly troubled and spoiled. One night, Jake flirts with a younger girl, the Gatsby-esque Daisy, before turning her down in less than chivalrous fashion. Daisy responds by e-mailing a sexually explicit video of herself. Jake forwards this to a friend, who forwards it to a friend, who forwards it to, well, the entire world. Schulman has a sharp satirical eye for the excesses and vanities of Liz and her coterie, while maintaining a humane perspective. Her real object is to follow the fallout of this moment of 21st century cyber-madness. The plot works exactly like the video at the centre of the storm - consequences spreading ripple by ripple as more and more people become involved. Fabulous.