Kirkus Star


Email this review


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.

“I was rich,” begins Huntley’s mesmerizing debut. “I owned a small business, I had a wardrobe I replaced all the time. I was toned enough and pretty enough. I moisturized, I worked out.” And yet, despite the West Village apartment, the trust fund, the weekly massages, and the occasional soup kitchen shift (“I was also a really good person,” she promises), Catherine feels existentially incomplete. So when she encounters William Stockton —at an art gala, obviously—she believes she’s found her missing piece: handsome, well-bred, adoring, if oddly reserved, he is the man she’s been waiting for. Plus, she wants children, and at 43, “the hourglass was running out of sand.” But immediately, there is something amiss about stately William Stockton; just the mention of his name causes her ailing mother to slam shut. Then again, Catherine reasons, “even pre-Alzheimer’s” her mother “had a tendency to hate people for no apparent reason.” And so, within months, the pair is engaged. And still, Catherine cannot ignore the increasingly unsettling signs. Why won’t her mother speak of him? Why is William so alarmed when Catherine sifts through his stash of innocuous childhood photos? And what is the meaning of the note from her former nanny, neatly taped in her mother’s old diary—“we cannot trust anyone to care for us fully”? 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.

Pub Date: June 28th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-385-54059-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2016


FictionLILY AND THE OCTOPUS by Steven Rowley
by Steven Rowley
NonfictionI'M JUST A PERSON by Tig Notaro
by Tig Notaro
NonfictionMAGIC AND LOSS by Virginia Heffernan
by Virginia Heffernan
NonfictionLOVE WINS by Debbie Cenziper
by Debbie Cenziper
Kirkus Interview
Swan Huntley
June 27, 2016

In Swan Huntley’s debut novel We Could Be Beautiful, 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. 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? “Huntley’s debut stands out not for its thrills but rather for her hawkish eye for social detail and razor-sharp wit,” our reviewer writes. “An intoxicating escape; as smart as it is fun.” View video >


MysteryBROKEN HARBOR by Tana French
by Tana French
FictionDISCLAIMER by Renée Knight
by Renée Knight