Jane Reads: This Beautiful Life

Like most of you, I love to read. I think that’s true for most of us who write. As a mother, it’s difficult for me to find time to read. With young children at home (I hesitate to say small as #1son just jumped two shoes sizes in the past 5 months. Yes. I said, two sizes!) my reading time is limited. But when I stumble onto something that grabs my attention, pulls me in and won’t let me go until I finish? I’m going to want to share it with all of you.

This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman, is a compelling story of a young teen who receives an illicit video email from a girl who has crush on him. He is stunned, conflicted and confused. With a click of a mouse, he forwards the email to his best friend – a friend with whom he shares everything.  A modern-day telephone game ensues and the video goes viral.

Privacy issues, family dynamics, social posturing in an upper class New York society are tossed together in a mixed-up tale questioning the boundaries we cross daily with our internet use. This story fascinated me as I wrestle with how public and transparent my own daughter seems to be on Facebook. I’ve had to ask her, repeatedly, to be careful with the pictures she posts of her little brothers. I typically get the eye-roll and a toss of the head. Feeling “square” I try to see it from her perspective but always come back to the same uneasy feelings that somehow our family privacy no longer exists in the click of a mouse internet age.

Helen Schulman is a compelling writer. I did get a little annoyed with meandering fluff sections and the use of profanity in descriptive, third person passages. I’m not against profanity use. I watch Dexter for goodness sake and have to check my own f-word use after watching an episode. But it seemed out of place (as if the narrator was trying to be as “hip” as her character) and seemed better suited to appear in actual dialogue. But I really enjoyed the way the story progressed from a different character perspective with each turn of the page. The frustration of the bread winning father, the shame and embarrassment of the son, the mom, barely coping with her new role as social outcast and the raw innocence of the 6-year-old daughter. A family divided in reaction and coping skills yet united in this internet tragedy.

This book doesn’t provide instant answers to the boundary hopping game the ease of the internet has given us. But it does push the reader to question personal boundaries and our comfort levels when we put ourselves out on the internet for all the world to see – whether we intend for the whole world to see us or not.

And what about our children and what we teach them is appropriate to share of themselves? For me, I’ve realized my own lazy internet parenting with my daughter and has me re-thinking how we’ll handle the computer with our sons.

I’m reminded of a New Adventures of Old Christine episode. Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) realizes that she just clicked send on a scathing email intended for her friend but sent instead, to her boss. She races down the cord of the laptop and yanks it out of the wall. Then breathes a sigh of relief. And her brother remarks, “Yep. I’m sure you stopped it.”

With a click of a mouse, your whole world can change.

And there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.


Filed under Books

9 responses to “Jane Reads: This Beautiful Life

  1. I’ll have to check B&N for that book. It dismays me quite often when I read my grandchildren’s Facebook entries. They truly are good kids, but so many of the comments with their friends are mean and crude in my opinion. And they are now written and will never go away. At least the spoken word will most often fade in time, but digital print is forever.

  2. This is on my list! I had to laugh about the shoes; Miss D.’s feet are now bigger than mine!

  3. Seems like a really interesting read! When I first started reading this post I thought it might be a good independent reading novel for my students, but I don’t know how I feel about the f-bombs… what do you think?
    My mom also gets very angry when I post pictures of my siblings online so I don’t do it anymore. It is funny but I didn’t even consider it a big deal until she explained her feelings to me. I totally get it. I wonder sometimes about some of these “mommy bloggers” who blog about their kids and post thousands of pictures of them online. What is going to happen to these kids in 10 years? It is an interesting thought.

  4. My Odd Family

    My rule of thumb is don’t post it on Facebook unless you would be comfortable posting it on a billboard in downtown Chicago. A mom once insisted that her daughters pictures were only visible to her daughters friends on Facebook. I asked her for permission to show her how quickly I could distribute anything on her kids page. It took me about 10 minutes. I have told Cole never to post or forward a picture of a girl. A picture of a bra strap hanging out could become an issue. And I have been very clear with him about the reason’s why…since I am an avid Facebook user and love it-he actually believes I know what I am talking about…The consequence’s for kids that misusing social media can be hugh (as the book describe).

  5. sounds like this needs to go on my ‘to read’ list! Only having a dog I have less fears about facebook and other social media…she hardly ever posts. But still I am careful (I think) about what I post. You never know though…

  6. Thanks for the review because this one’s on my list!!!

  7. Aha! Recently reviewed this myself. I really enjoyed the read, and soaked it up pretty quick. My biggest criticism is lack of depth to the plot, it felt like it kind skimmed the surface of the dynamic of the relationships and then the issue overall. But a good summer read to be sure.

  8. I’ll have to check this out. As soon I have a moment to read.

    It can happen!

  9. I’ve never seen ‘New Adventures’ but that sounds a comic scene for sure! I’ve pressed send a few too many times by accident on both emails and texts…you’d think I’d learn right!?

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