We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley
It’s very difficult to write a book with an unlikable main character. Or, I should say, it’s very difficult to write a book with an unlikable main character that people will actually like. Happily, Swan Huntley pulls it off with We Could Be Beautiful.
WCBB is about a shallow Manhattan heiress, Catherine West, who views herself as a bit of a poor-little-rich-girl, suffering from a lack of fulfillment despite her massive wealth. Part of it is simple boredom. She owns an artsy-fartsy stationery boutique in the Village, but she rarely bothers to work there, instead preferring random drop-ins to critique the performance of her two employees. She maintains a lavish schedule of massages, exercise, and shopping, all fueled by regular trust-fund infusions, but none of those things manage to obscure the yawning hole in Catherine’s life.
She’s been engaged twice—once, infuriatingly, to someone who ditched her for an older, less attractive woman—but she’s never been married. She’s not close with her family; her sister is a needy twerp, and her mother, who is even bitchier than Catherine, suffers from early-stage dementia and is tucked away in a posh assisted living facility, where she regularly accuses the help of stealing her jewelry. Catherine does have one friend, another mega-rich woman named Susan, who is good for an occasional lunch or society function but is hardly a substitute for the family Catherine desires.
Enter William Stockton. A banker who recently returned to the United States after a stint in Switzerland, William is that most elusive of single Manhattanites: tall, handsome, distinguished, straight. He’s debonair and courtly without being square. He acquires art, occasionally somewhat mysteriously in that he doesn't seem to have to pay for it. Unfortunately, he does have a dog—a beastly little annoyance named Herman—but Catherine realizes no one is perfect. In no time, William and Catherine are engaged.
if you’ve ever read a book before, you’re well aware that something is bound to go catastrophically wrong. It gradually dawns on Catherine that William is not quite what he seems, especially after she finds a long-lost message from the warm, empathetic woman who worked as her childhood nanny. Desperately, she tries to stifle the clamor of her inner warning system—she wants this to work so badly—but as things begin to spiral, Catherine faces a clear choice: discover the truth about William, or find a way to live in a relationship that may not be as it seems.
I liked this book a lot. Catherine becomes more odious with each passing page— she’s contemptuous of her nervous shop employee, irritated by her younger sister’s adoration, and clueless about the realities of poverty. She’s vaguely mean and she’s overtly decadent. But the author does a brilliant job drawing you in, so that even as you smugly acknowledge that you personally, on your worst days, are morally superior to Catherine in pretty much every way, you also realize that you care what happens to her. Maybe it’s because you suspect William is manipulating the unlovable Catherine, or because her family sucks, or maybe it’s because Huntley’s portrayal of Catherine is so intriguingly honest. This isn't an action-y psychological thriller; it’s more of a subtle character portrait. A lot of book goes by without any major events occurring, but that didn't bother me because I was so drawn into Catherine’s life. Only a really good writer can accomplish that.
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Buy We Could Be Beautiful HERE