This Beautiful Life (Paperback)

By Helen Schulman

Harper Perennial, 9780062024398, 222pp.

Publication Date: February 7, 2012



"ThisBeautiful Life is a gripping, potent and blisteringly well-written story offamily, dilemma, and consequence. . . . I read this book with white-knuckledurgency, and I finished it in tears. Helen Schulman is an absolutely brilliantnovelist." --Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Theevents of a single night shatter one family's sense of security and identity inthis provocative and deeply affecting domestic drama from Helen Schulman, theacclaimed author of A Day at the Beach and Out of Time. In thetradition of Lionel Shriver, Sue Miller, and Laura Moriarty, Schulman crafts abrilliantly observed portrait of parenting and modern life, cunningly exploringour most deeply-held convictions and revealing the enduring strengths thatemerge in the face of crisis.

Conversation Starters from

  1. What are your impressions of the Bergamot family? How do Liz and Richard’s backgrounds influence how they view the good fortune of their lives?
  2. Do you think Liz and Richard are good parents? Liz believes she’s not better or worse than other mothers. Do you agree with her? What makes a good parent? Does she love her son “too much”—“crippling in its way” as she calls it? Explain what she means.
  3. At the beginning of the novel, Liz and Coco are at the Plaza for a sleepover. How do the events at the sleepover and Liz’s observations about the soon-to-close hotel foreshadow what follows?
  4. What was the Bergamot family’s life like before they moved to New York City? Might the same situation have occurred if they had remained in Ithaca? How much does the urban milieu—and the moneyed world they are a part of—influence the behaviors of both parents and students, especially the Bergamots?
  5. When it comes to girls and sex, Jake is a typically confused teen. “His Mom was always saying don’t take advantage of a girl, but what if a girl wanted to be taken advantage of?” How would you answer him?
  6. Why does Jake forward the video Daisy sends him? How do his peers react when it goes viral? How did they view Daisy and Jake? What about the other parents? Is there a clear-cut villain and victim?
  7. Compare the two girls at the center of Jake’s consciousness, Audrey and Daisy. What do you think the future holds for them? What have they learned from the events that pass? What about Jake? And what about his precocious and popular five-year-old sister, Coco?
  8. In the midst of the crisis, Jake is reading The Great Gatsby for school. How do the themes of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel reverberate in This Beautiful Life? What does Jake take away from reading the novel in light of his own situation?
  9. Think about the Bergamot’s reaction to the scandal. Do you agree with their actions? Could they have made different choices? What might you do if your child was either Daisy or Jake? What is the proper punishment for their behaviors? How much of Richard’s reaction is related to concern over his job and career?
  10. Early in the novel, Liz reveals her feelings about home and family. “It was what Liz always hungered after despite generations of contrary evidence: Relatives as respite, home as haven, a retreat from the rest of the dangerous, damaging world.” How does the shelter of family and home crumble after Jake’s indiscretion? Could the damage have been prevented?
  11. How did the event change how Liz and Richard see themselves and each other? Are they both responsible for what follows? Why can’t Liz maintain their “beautiful life” anymore?
  12. While the events in This Beautiful Life are fictional, similar cases have made headlines around the country. What does the novel say about our society? How has the Internet affected our behavior, especially that of adolescents? The author sets the book in 2003; how might the outcome have been different had the narrative taken place a decade later?
  13. What are your thoughts on the novel’s ending?