cover image Natural Beauty

Natural Beauty

Ling Ling Huang. Dutton, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-47292-7

A young Chinese American woman learns the secrets of a sinister wellness company in Huang’s incisive and disquieting debut. After the unnamed narrator’s parents are involved in a severe car accident, she abandons her classical music career to focus on their care. She receives an auspicious invitation to work at a Goop-esque Holistik outlet, where she becomes one of a bevy of salesgirls, hocking everything from face creams to emotional support ducklings, and her employer pressures her into taking the workplace name Anna for the ease of customers who struggled with her given name. As the narrator tries the treatments, she notices surreal changes to her appearance, including lighter skin, longer legs, and bigger breasts. She also forms a close friendship with Helen, the owner’s niece, and develops an attraction to Helen while giving her piano lessons. Eventually, Helen reveals clues about Holistik’s nefarious machinations. Insidious Western standards, fears about bodily autonomy, and queer desire intersect as Huang’s precise and subtle portrayal of the beauty industry builds to an explosive climax. Alternatingly poignant and deeply unsettling, this is an outstanding first outing for an immensely talented author. Agent: Kirby Kim, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Apr.)