I have to confess that I didn’t know much about the story told in Judy Chicurel’s debut novel before reading it. (It turns out that there are multiple stories, and as the novel’s set in a working class community, you get a real sense of that from the shifts in emphasis, with different characters coming to the fore while others fade into the background for a while.)
It’s set on a fictionalised Long Island of 1972. Now, Long Island’s not somewhere I’ve ever been but it’s one of those places that I can’t help wondering about whenever I hear it referenced in fiction or on TV and in films, and this was an interesting time for America, with young men returning from the Vietnam War, and young women having more freedom to make choices about their future than ever before.
But all I really knew going in to this was that I liked the look of the cover and the title – If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go – was long, yes!, but also intriguing. (It did also have me secretly hoping that the novel would be about more than the love story it suggests. Which it is.) And, much as I love the title, I’m going to be calling it This Beautiful for the rest of the review.
“I’d been hanging around Comanche Street for three years and there were still times when it felt like I was watching a movie starring everyone I knew in the world, except me.”
Almost as soon as I began to read, Chicurel’s narrator, Katie, pulled me in to the Long Island community she’s not properly part of – she lives on the outskirts of it with her parents – but to which she nevertheless feels drawn. It’s where she wants to spend all her spare time, admittedly partly because she’s hoping for it to throw her in the path of her crush, who’s recently returned home from Vietnam. Her fascination with these people comes through in her descriptions and anecdotes about them and I was every bit as happy as Katie is to spend my time with them. Yes, there’s seediness, drug-taking, dysfunctional relationships and violence here but while both the people in the community, as well as her parents, believe she could do better and should have been looking elsewhere for her friends and entertainment, I could certainly understand the pull they exert on her. She’s a great choice of narrator. She’s on the cusp of adulthood and having to make choices about her future. She doesn’t quite come from the same part of town she spends most of her time in, so she is the ideal observer, almost part of the community she’s telling us about but also someone who will never be as part of it as someone born there or, more importantly, as she’d like to be. And hasn’t there been a group of people like that we’ve all desperately wanted to be accepted by or be a part of in our lives at some point?
As I mentioned above, the novel’s told in a series of vignettes, where different characters take prominence as Chicurel highlights their role in the community’s story. What connects them all is their relationship to the narrator, Katie, and the part they play in her coming-of-age story, which is, in effect what This Beautiful is. It’s a wonderfully-told story in what feels like a fresh new voice; I loved the characters Chicurel introduces us to, as well as her descriptions of local businesses, like the candy store, Eddy’s, and The Starlight Hotel, and the nights all the kids go to Elephant Beach. Chicurel’s created a very real world that you can imagine living on well after you close the pages on it. I can see the people on Comanche Street, including its honorary member, Katie, just getting on with their lives out there somewhere on Chicurel’s version of 1972’s Long Island.
This Beautiful is beautiful: it’s a wonderfully evocative debut novel and I’m more than happy to recommend it to you. I know that I’ll be looking out for Judy Chicurel’s next book(s) with a lot of interest.
If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go is Judy Chicurel‘s debut novel and is published by Tinder Press today. You can order it to your local bookstore using Hive or buy it through online retailers, such as Amazon UK, Amazon US, The Book Depository and Waterstones.
Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.