Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman (4/5)

14 Dec

It was right after I read We Need to Talk About Kevin and Defending Jacob that I decided I wanted to read this book. I think the relationship between parent and child when something goes terribly wrong is a unique look at familial relationships.

Cover image via Goodreads

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

Summary from Goodreads:

The events of a single night shatter one family’s sense of security and identity in this provocative and deeply affecting domestic drama from Helen Schulman, the acclaimed author of A Day at the Beach and Out of Time. In the tradition of Lionel Shriver, Sue Miller, and Laura Moriarty, Schulman crafts a brilliantly observed portrait of parenting and modern life, cunningly exploring our most deeply-held convictions and revealing the enduring strengths that emerge in the face of crisis.

It sounds weird to say I really enjoyed this book, but I did. I didn’t enjoy what happened to them because it was terrible, but the way it was writing about was really engaging for me. I liked how Schulman explored each character, letting Jake, Liz, and Richard all share how they were dealing with their tragedy. I liked all the bad, dirty details about how Liz felt drawn to a stranger more than her family, how Richard took solace in running, and how Jake was betrayed by friends and family.

I thought the reactions were very credible. I’ve never been in a similar situation or known someone who was (thankfully) but I have to imagine it would be a different experience for each person. I thought the ways they each dealt with the pain and loneliness of the situation was realistic and I thought the situation itself was very believable. I could see it happening in my hometown.

Jake was my favorite character. Probably because I’ve been a teenager in a petty school, I could understand what was happening to him. High school always blows the smallest things out of proportion so that people do dumb things. Being perceived as older was always important, feeling that being sexually active was important, all of these things were part of high school and, in retrospect, are so stupid. I understood why it happened, I understood why he did what he did, and I could feel his pain.

Helen Schulman
Image via the New York Times

I thought the final chapter was very telling. I don’t think this ruins the book much, so if you plan to read it, this paragraph should still be safe. Daisy’s reaction was missing from most of this book so ending with her seemed appropriate. I thought it was so perfect how little she seemed to care about the privilege she was currently living and how much she wrote off genuine care from another person. She was so self-centered. The reader got a peek at that when she was signing autographs, but the fact that it stuck with her until she was in college, the fact that she didn’t see anything wrong with her behavior, that was so telling.

Liz’s downward spiral was the hardest for me to read and understand. She felt like she’d failed as a parent and at her goals, I get that. Why she fixated on an ex-boyfriend and why she neglected Coco, that I don’t understand. She tried to turn things around at the end of the book, but it was a bit too late then and something was going to give.

Everyone responds differently when faced with challenges. This book talked about the different ways we deal with grief and how much a small decision can affect so many lives. Daisy wasn’t really affected but Jake and his family were devastated. Maybe Coco would escape, but Jake, Richard, and Liz’s lives were changed forever.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m not normally a fan of jumping between characters but I loved it in this book. I thought it was a lot more impactful that we got to see inside so many people’s heads. I’m glad Schulman waited until the end to have Daisy speak, though. That would have been a bit much. I’m glad she kept it to the core family, the consistency helped and didn’t make this tactic overwhelming.

This was a great book and I’m so glad I read it. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman | Leeswammes’ Blog
Helen Schulman on This Beautiful Life | InTheMoment
Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman | Overflowing Heart Reviews
Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman | Of Books and Reading

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