Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Could Have Been

This Beautiful Life  by Helen Schulman, is a book that Jodi Picoult should have written.  In fact, I am almost certain that Jodi Picoult is cursing herself for not coming up with its premise before Schulman brought it to print.  TBL fits Picoult's formula perfectly:  a kid does something wrong which raises moral, ethical and legal issues which affect the entire family and which threaten to tear the family apart. 

In this case, it is the son, Jake, who receives a video from an 8th grade girl in which she is naked and using a baseball bat inappropriately.  Jake, who is 15, forwards the video to one friend.  Within hours it is all over the internet.  Meanwhile, the dad has a high powered job which requires him to present a strong image to the public, and the mom is obsessing over an ex-boyfriend's blog.  Sounds great, doesn't it?  And it could have been.  If Picoult had written it. 

Schulman has an entirely different style from Picoult, where she seems to back down from the anxiety provoking moments.  She is able to find a suitable resolution for every issue, and the reader is never put into a position where he or she can't imagine a good way out.  Picoult would have pushed the limits.  In Schulman's world, even though millions of viewers know about this child porn (which it is a crime to even possess, let alone forward) the New York City police and prosecutors apparently don't own computers.  Jake's biggest problem is ending his suspension from school, which his dad adeptly manages.  The mom and the dad readily download the video, knowing that it is child porn when they do so, with no concern that an investigator might seize all of the household computers and prosecute all of the people found to have downloaded it.  The issue that Schulman presents is whether the girl is "bad" and whether Jake is the "victim".  I guess I wanted more.  We are told that the mom is reading an ex-boyfriend's blog obsessively, but we don't feel the obsession.  She doesn't wonder how their kids might have been different from her real life children.  Why wouldn't she?  And did you notice how I mentioned that they have children in This Beautiful Life?  The daughter, Coco, felt like an accessory.

Note to Jodi Picoult:  As far as I am concerned, this storyline is still available and ready for you to write.  There's a great story here, but it needs your formula to work. 

I'm sort of bummed that I picked this book for The Typical Book Group to read.  We'll see what they think, but we've read Picoult for this group before, so my guess is that they will feel a lot like I did about it.  At least that's one more book down for the Support Your Library Book Challenge - 22 to go!

Next up:  London Train by Tessa Hadley  OK, I admit it.  I saw the review for this one on the New York Times 2011 Notable Books List, and would have passed on it, if the author's last name wasn't Hadley.  I've got to give Hadleys a chance!

Still Listening to:  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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