by Rebecca Clark
Debut author Swan Huntley spins a spellbinding novel in We Could Be Beautiful, over three hundred pages that explore wealth, trust, and the tumultuous nature of familial relationships. Drawing parallels to J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy and even F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Huntley paints a haunting picture of the lives of affluent socialites.
We Could Be Beautiful tells the story of Catherine West, a forty-three-year-old small business owner in New York who seems to have it all: a large sum of money, thanks to her wealthy father; a beautiful house, complete with a maid and a masseuse; an immense collection of artwork from all over the world; and stunningly good looks, especially for a woman her age. There’s just one thing missing: love. Catherine desperately longs for a husband and a child to love. She wants a family more than anything in the world, assuring herself that she can only be truly happy once she has achieved this. When she unexpectedly runs into an old family friend at an art gallery, William Stockton, the pair’s whirlwind romance gives Catherine hope for her future. As Catherine’s relationship with William progresses, however, secrets about William and the West family begin to emerge, forcing Catherine to face a difficult dilemma.
Although the plot is somewhat basic, Huntley demonstrates her wit, strong attention to detail, and ability to leave the reader on the edge of their seat. Written from a first-person perspective, Catherine has a strong narrative voice and evokes empathy from the reader despite her excessive wealth. In the first few pages, Catherine laments “there was something about having money that made the incompleteness sharper,” that “people didn’t feel sorry for you” and “decided not to like you before they even knew you.” We eventually root for Catherine and feel sympathetic towards her and her situation; our hearts break for her when the economy forces her to close her small business, “Leaf.” While at times we may question her thought processes or intentions, our support for her happy ending never wavers.
Another theme emerges fairly early in the text: the complexity and intricacy of familial relationships. With her mother battling dementia and her younger sister falling victim to a crumbling marriage, Catherine must untangle the snarled web of family secrets completely by herself. With this extra layer added to the main storyline, Huntley paints a narrative full of twists and turns, upside-downs and turnarounds.