Feature

Author of the week: Helen Schulman

In Schulman’s fifth novel, This Beautiful Life, the son of a privileged New York family gets caught up in a sexting scandal.

Helen Schulman saw the sexting era coming, said Jill Bialosky in TheDailyBeast.com. In 2003, the New York author was searching for book ideas when she noticed a trend. There had been several incidents in New York City involving “kids and their indiscretions,” she says, and she was struck by the “needlessly vicious” response of other teenagers. A mother herself, Schulman shuddered each time she heard about teenagers sending pictures or videos of themselves naked or performing sexual acts. “I found, by proxy, the aftereffects of these actions haunting and painful.” She contacted public school officials to try to write a nonfiction work about the subject, but met with resistance. “So I thought I would make it up,” she says.

This Beautiful Life, which is Schulman’s fifth novel, tells the story of a privileged New York family that’s torn apart when a teenage son stumbles into a sexting scandal, said Alexandra Alter in The Wall Street Journal. Creating a fictional drama turned out to be liberating. “Story truth feels realer than nonfiction,” says the author. “A story can often do a better job at getting me closer to understanding than a piece of reportage.” Schulman took pains not to pass moral judgments on her characters. “The desire to share something that upsets one or scares or titillates is human,” she says. Writing the book has definitely made her more cautious, though. “I spent so much time with this. Every once in a while I send an e-mail and I think, ‘Should I have put that in?’”

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