By: Swan Huntley
Publication Date: 6/28/2016
My Rating: 4 Stars
A spellbinding psychological debut novel, Swan Huntley's We Could Be Beautiful is the story of a wealthy woman who has everything—and yet can trust no one.
Catherine West has spent her entire life surrounded by beautiful things. She owns an immaculate Manhattan apartment, she collects fine art, she buys exquisite handbags and clothing, and she constantly redecorates her home. And yet, despite all this, she still feels empty.
She sees her personal trainer, she gets weekly massages, and occasionally she visits her mother and sister on the Upper East Side, but after two broken engagements and boyfriends who wanted only her money, she is haunted by the fear that she'll never have a family of her own. One night, at an art opening, Catherine meets William Stockton, a handsome man who shares her impeccable taste and love of beauty. He is educated, elegant, and even has a personal connection—his parents and Catherine's parents were friends years ago.
But as he and Catherine grow closer, she begins to encounter strange signs, and her mother, Elizabeth (now suffering from Alzheimer's), seems to have only bad memories of William as a boy. In Elizabeth's old diary she finds an unnerving letter from a former nanny that cryptically reads: "We cannot trust anyone . . . " Is William lying about his past? And if so, is Catherine willing to sacrifice their beautiful life in order to find the truth?
Featuring a fascinating heroine who longs for answers but is blinded by her own privilege, We Could Be Beautiful is a glittering, seductive, utterly surprising story of love, money, greed, and family.
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A special thank you to Doubleday and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Swan Huntley delivers a twisty debut WE COULD BE BEAUTIFUL — an electrifying psychological and domestic mystery suspense mix of dark family secrets, greed, money, lies, and betrayal.
Catherine West, age 43 years old, has everything anyone woman could want or desire. Wealth, homes, business, clothes, and beauty. She primarily lives off a trust fund from her father, with a robust monthly amount, more than most earn in a year.
She even volunteers and gives to the needy. The posh Manhattanite lacks what she really wants. Despite her good deeds, and good fortune, she feels incomplete. She wants a man who loves her and a family. Children. It was not for a lack of trying. She had been engaged twice but it never worked out. She feels like a failure.
One night she promised her girlfriend she would attend a Gala for Contemporary Folk Art and meets an older distinguished man, William Stockton. He even knew their family and appears he has money, class, charm, and looks.
They share so many of the same things. He is sophisticated and enjoys the finer things of life; art and culture. Could he be too good to be true? Maybe now she does not have to worry about him liking her for her money, if he has his own. Or does he?
Catherine’s mom has Alzheimer’s and had progressed to the point where the task of living alone was beyond her. For a while she had caretakers, but her mother could be difficult and was unable to keep anyone long term.
Catherine and her sister Caroline decided to put her in a home, which turned out positive with other friends her own age. They had sold the apartment and her mom had enough to live comfortably with her health and financial needs cared for.
Something is a little off with William. She is unsure. He was careful, confident, familiar, strange, and he was exactly what she had been waiting for. He was classy, smart, fashionable, and practical. Or so she thinks. His past?
When Catherine brings up William’s name to her mom, she is very disturbed. Her mom’s reaction bothers her, but she was not sure she could trust her. Even pre-Alzheimer’s she had a tendency to express hatred for others, for no apparent reason. She was extremely judgmental. Back in her day she was charming but intimidating, even to her staff.
Possibly she was just confused.
In the meantime, things heat up with William. He moved in two weeks later and then engaged rather quickly. They settled into a routine. Could they be beautiful together?
When she shows her mom the ring and informs her she is getting married, she seemed upset again. Her face is twisted and nostrils flaring. Catherine is so desperate for a happily ever after, she ignores her mother, and her fears. She puts it all aside and moves forward.
William is also bothered when Catherine is going through childhood photos. A note, a diary. Her old nanny. Can she trust her? Things are getting very confusing to her.
She receives bad news about her trust. The money is not what she thought. hen there is the will. Her mom had donated the sale of the house, the art, and money to charity and museums before she lost her mind to her illness. Now, what will she do? No more money. Could William save her?
Now, you "must" read to discover the juicy details, and the dark twisted secrets!
"Denial, I have learned, is not the act of lying to yourself. Denial is not an act, it‘s a state. It’s the state of not knowing you are a liar.” I was fixated on a certain picture of my life, and that picture was reflected on the surface of everything I saw. We do not choose to be blind, and when we are blind, we don’t know that. We see as much as we can bear to see, and we assumed that’s all there is.”
What comes in Part Two and Three is Mind-Blowing! Catherine finds herself questioning everyone around her. Delicious scandalous dark secrets!
Razor sharp, haunting, contemporary, and psychologically astute. With clever shocking twists and turns, vivid descriptions, mixed with humor—Huntley grabs you and takes you for a wild ride.
The diaries/journals/letters between Mae (nanny) and Catherine’s mom, are nicely done from the seventies. A nice twist with the Alzheimer’s, adding an unreliable intriguing mood.
What is real beauty? What we see in people, places, things, and our lives? Sometimes we do crazy things, tangled in a maze, and take detours in our lives, in order to land on the right path.
Fans of Paula Daly, Liane Moriarty, and Heather Gudenkauf will enjoy the complex psychological twists. Well-developed characters, and smartly plotted; hard to believe, this is a debut! Can’t wait to see what comes next. Huntley is a talented author to follow.
Highly entertaining! A great summer escape.
Also purchased audio narrated by Cassandra Campbell, one of my favorite narrators!
June Top Reads
“Posh Manhattanite Catherine West has everything but the family she's always wanted. But when she falls for the man of her supposed dreams, she unravels a web of deception that upends life as she knows it… Mesmerizing… As elegantly plotted as it is—and it is—Huntley's debut stands out not for its thrills but rather for her hawkish eye for social detail and razor-sharp wit. It is more than a classic psychological thriller: it is also a haunting—and weirdly moving—portrait of love and family among Manhattan's flailing upper crust. An intoxicating escape; as smart as it is fun.”
—Kirkus (STARRED REVIEW)
“Swan Huntley intimately explores the psyche of a 43-year-old, still single, affluent New Yorker in her first novel, We Could Be Beautiful…Aspects of deception and greed are suspenseful undercurrents that propel this well-plotted, seductive psychological thriller. Huntley has created a riveting yet flawed heroine in whom readers will eagerly invest as she is forced to unravel the truth about a man who seems too good to be true and a shrouded past that may hold the key to her future.”
—Kathleen Gerard, Shelf Awareness
“Love, money, and secrets collide in this intoxicating debut novel… Will make your head swirl.”
—Melissa Ragsdale, Bustle
“This psychological thriller will keep you up all night turning pages.”
—Elizabeth Rowe, Bookish
“Catherine West is the woman we all love to hate: Beautiful, rich, and self-absorbed. When William Stockton appears to make her his bride, Catherine does her best to keep his shady past at bay, but it catches up with them in the end.”
—Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Full of secrets and a quickly moving plot, We Could Be Beautiful is the perfect addition to your reading list, and the perfect book for fans of The Girl on the Train.”
—Amy Sachs, Bustle
"Here's a thriller we can sink into. Deeply psychological and nuanced, Huntley's We Could Be Beautiful follows one wealthy Manhattan woman who has nearly everything. The one thing she lacks, however, is a relationship. That is, until her white knight comes along one evening. But it never quite works out that way, does it? (Not in a book like this, certainly.) Huntley's novel is a twisting, turning, secret-filled story that's worthy of your precious summer reading time."
—Meredith Turits, Elle
“We Could Be Beautiful is a sexy psychological thriller about wealth and class and the endless mysteries of romantic engagement. At the heart of Swan Huntley’s sly and witty debut is the unsettling question that anyone who’s ever been in love has wondered about the person they've given their heart to: Who are you?”
“Sharp, hilarious and thrillingly unsettling. This well-crafted page-turner about a woman trapped in a gilded cage of her own creation is a sheer pleasure to read; it's also complex and multilayered, much like the characters that inhabit it.”
—Stephanie Clifford, New York Times bestselling author of Everybody Rise
"A terrifically smart, funny, tender debut from the absurdly talented Swan Huntley. With astonishing acuity and compassion, she locates all the foibles and frailties and unexpected moments of courage that make us human. Beautiful, indeed."
—Stacey D'Erasmo, author of Wonderland
"We Could be Beautiful is a hilarious look at the wealth and excess of Upper East Side families and the secrets they keep. Part satire, part page-turner mystery, it skewers first, then reveals a yearning heart pounding at its core."
—Diane Cook, author of Man V. Nature
About the Author
Swan Huntley earned her MFA at Columbia University. She's received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ragdale Foundation. She lives in California and Hawaii.