This Beautiful Life

Harper: HarperCollins. Aug. 2011. 240p. ISBN 9780062024381. $24.99.
All's well with the Bergamot family, new to New York's Upper West Side—until son Jake receives a sexually explicit video from an eighth-grade admirer that in a moment of cockiness and confusion he sends to a friend. Soon it's viral, Jake is suspended from his private school, and the whole family starts tearing at the seams. Schulman's quietly thoughtful A Day at the Beach was one of those rare novels about 9/11 that didn't exploit the event, and I expect the same here. The first pages are sobering, elegant, and fluid.
Fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot stared at his computer screen in disbelief. With one keystroke he had forwarded a very private video to a trusted friend and thus out into the cyberworld, unleashing a firestorm that will bring his family's carefully constructed house of cards tumbling down. Nine months into a move from the idyllic Cornell campus in Ithaca, NY, to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Richard Bergamot is too wrapped up in a challenging new career to notice that his wife, Lizzie, her Ph.D. languishing in a drawer, is suffering adjustment issues. Lizzie, whose day revolves around the überscheduled social life of her precocious six-year-old fails to sense that Jake is struggling, too. When the crisis strikes, readers will feel torn between averting their eyes and watching in dismay as simmering resentments surface and this once beautiful life implodes.
VERDICT Schulman, whose awards include a Pushcart Prize and a Sundance Fellowship, has written a painfully honest novel that examines with precision the delicate balancing act needed to nurture a family through these manic times. Reminiscent of Anita Shreve's Testimony and Anna Quindlen's Every Last One, this book will appeal to readers who thrive on discussing moral ambiguities. [See Prepub Alert, 1/31/11.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL
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