reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo
“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”
― Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata
When I was first sent this book, I thought it was about the dark side of being beautiful. But it’s not. This is a straight up horror story and I loved every second. In the vein of holistic beauty products such as Goop and similar brands that claim to be all natural, all organic and additive free, do you actually know what you are putting in your body and on your skin? The author does an amazing job in this almost satirical version of our current beauty and wellness obsession, not to mention the class divide of the wealthy being able to indulge in expensive treatments such as blood facials or gold body treatments, for example.
Our narrator, unnamed for most of this novel, then called Anna, is a former piano prodigy but stopped playing when her immigrant parents were hurt in a car accident after one of her recitals. Since then, she has taken low-paying jobs and lives in the basement of an apartment, using all of her money to help pay for the care of her parents. When she is approached at her waitressing job by the founder of Holistik, a beauty and wellness brand similar to Goop, she is over the moon. It is a coveted invitation and would be silly to turn down. She could afford to take care of her parents and maybe move out of her basement apartment. It’s an invitation they don’t give to just anyone. Employees there are well known for their unique looks and glowing skin and nails.
Holistik and several companies under their umbrella cater to the rich and famous. Their treatments and supplements are expensive and some of them are quite experimental and do things like change your hair color, make your skin glow and even alter your brain chemistry. Employees are encouraged to take part in these procedures and are required to take Holistik supplements daily. But when Anna’s skin shines and her hair turns a different color and even her legs seem longer, she questions what is in these supplements and what will happen when she stops taking them. And then her friend and coworker, Helen, passes away suddenly and Anna begins to connect the pieces of the dark side of Holistik and where they are getting their formulas from.
Natural Beauty doesn’t sound like a horror novel, but it definitely is mind-blowingly scary with horrifying scenes in which the reader is convinced Anna is daydreaming, but she’s not. One reviewer called this book sneaky and that it is. It begins as a commentary on identity and fitting in when you are an immigrant and then becomes darker and dark until the reader is in a maelstrom of unbelievable panic and horror. This is a fantastic novel and incredibly thought-provoking. One of the best I have read this year.