We Could Be Beautiful

“It took me a long time to understand that what I had wanted was not a picture of something perfect. I already had that. What I had wanted was the feeling inside the pictures, the thing I had been trying to buy and drink and eat and not eat and fake my way to all my life. I wanted what everyone wanted. I wanted love.”

-Swan Huntley

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A peek into the lives of the affluent and privileged. This book gave me that without making me want that life.

Catherine West (a great well-to-do name) is no saint. She’s vapid, clueless, and self-loathing. There are previews of her being nice, of wanting to be better, of wanting to do good, but not really. That kind of wealth places people into a delusional, out of touch realm of their own. And that’s where Catherine lives.

Huntley succeeds in getting the shallow, irritating, and hilarious aspects of Catherine down. And while many goodreads reviewers seem to hate unlikable female protagonists, I live for them. Catherine is not a murderer, but she’s not a nice girl either. She’s a nuanced and realistic character. Even the most conscientious, good, and well-meaning person still has mean thoughts and harsh judgements on occasion. And since we are able to see inside Catherine’s head through the first person narration, we see all this and more. Her privilege, her distorted thinking, her monthly deposit from her family trust, and her mother (MY GOD, HER MOTHER) all exacerbate her inner bitch.

Even though Catherine is 43 in this novel, I felt like I was reading a story about a woman in her twenties or thirties. I guess I hoped that by 43, a woman with that much affluence, stability, and opportunity wouldn’t be defining herself by whether or not she has a man. But who am I kidding? Gender norms run deep in our culture. And Huntley does a great job of exposing this female expectation of finding prince charming. This notion that you are not someone until you have a man is always appalling, but it’s never louder, better written, or clearer than it is in this book.

Huntley produces great details and weaves together a string of fun, annoying, and vicious supporting characters. The bond with Catherine and her sister, Caroline, is spot on. Many friends of mine with sisters have the same complicated relationship. Susan is an ideal best friend. And Marty is pure comic relief.

As for William Stockton and her mother, well…that would require a separate review. They are perfect villains.

William’s style of speaking made him extra annoying. Although, I’m pretty sure that was the point. I DIDN’T LIKE HIM AT ANY POINT IN THE STORY. NOT ONCE.

By the end, with the big reveal (which was very Days of Our Lives), I didn’t feel sorry for Catherine, only satisfied.

A great debut from Swan Huntley.

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