The Goddesses by Swan Huntley

This psychological thriller takes a pleasantly average woman to lovely Hawaii, where she is charmed, then devastated.

“We came here to escape.” From the outside, it might look like a dream: moving the family to Hawaii, career advancement, surf and sand for the kids. Nancy and Chuck and their teenaged twin sons, Cam and Jed, set up house in Kona. The boys are “stoked” at the opportunity, but Nancy isn’t. She is furious that Chuck cheated on her back in San Diego, and exasperated with her boring, predictable self. She hopes that Hawaii will be a new beginning. She starts eating healthier, sits in a different bleacher row at the boys’ water polo games, switches the towels around, puts the mugs in the cabinet facing up instead of down. She starts going to morning yoga classes on the beach, and that’s where she meets Ana.

In The Goddesses, Swan Huntley (We Could Be Beautiful) builds a complete inner world for Nancy. She narrates the story, sharing her feelings and reactions with the reader: her fascination with the beautiful, confident, charismatic Ana; her frustration with bumbling Chuck; her pride in her developing shoulder muscles and newfound strength. Yoga and Kona, the farmer’s market and the freedom of knowing no one, and especially her growing friendship with Ana, make Nancy optimistic about the future and her ability to reinvent herself. Even her marriage with Chuck sees some healthy rejuvenation. But the Nancy relating this story has the wisdom of hindsight, and can’t help but sneak in the odd, sinister comment about what that future holds.

Ana helps Nancy trade in her minivan for a BMW convertible. They spend their days lolling in Ana’s Jacuzzi, at her little pink house on the beach. Nancy–or Nan, as Ana calls her, the same three letters forming both names–starts to stay out some evenings, leaving her husband and sons to prepare their own dinners, because her new friend needs her. The reader, prodded by the warning tone in Nancy’s narrative voice, can’t tell what’s coming, only that “Nan” is a bit too easily taken in, Ana a bit too needy.

The Goddesses is a novel of lush green foliage, brightly colored hibiscus, new beginnings and old mistakes: hope and betrayal twined together. Huntley’s prose is clipped, declarative: “Our cars arrived. We’d had them shipped.” Her characters are adequately developed, her setting evocative, but it is the stealthily twisting plot that makes this novel sparkle. She offers an earnest, likable protagonist in Nancy, then plunges her into psychological challenges she never saw coming. Even in paradise, beautiful exteriors are not necessarily to be trusted.

This review originally ran in the June 16, 2017 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 7 Buddhas.

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