We Could Be So Good: A Novel

Image of We Could Be So Good: A Novel
Release Date: 
June 6, 2023
Reviewed by: 

“Sebastian has a breezy style that keeps the reader interested.”

In Cat Sebastian’s gay romance, set in New York City in the 1950s, newspaperman Nick Russo panics when a colleague gives him a copy of Mary Renault’s gay classic, The Charioteer. Nick has given up on gay fiction because too many novels end unhappily (the only way they could get published). Nick also panics because he doesn’t want anyone to know he is gay. It is the 1950s and he could lose his job and be arrested. His policeman brother had to intervene when he was arrested at age 18.

Renault’s novel, published in England in 1953, but not published in the US until 1959, was groundbreaking in presenting a gay love story in a positive way. Since then, there has been a long line of gay male romances penned by women. Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner (1974) was the first gay novel to be a New York Times bestseller. Now Cat Sebastian is one of a number of women who specialize in popular gay fiction, particularly gay romance.

In We Could Be So Good, Sebastian has tried to present an historically credible picture of what it felt like to be a gay man in New York in the 1950s. The historical detail is convincing, the romance less so.

Nick Russo is a successful newspaper reporter who works hard to keep himself safely closeted. He can safely play straight even though he has no wife or girlfriends. His safety net is detachment. He avoids his gay fellow workers. He also has a tense relationship with his family, particularly his brother, who is a policeman with the anti-gay bias that was endemic to the profession at the time.

Into the press room comes Andy Fleming, the son of the newspaper’s owner. Andy is the opposite of Nick: fair to Nick’s dark, aristocratic to Nick’s working-class background, feckless and disorganized to Nick’s discipline, seemingly straight to Nick’s closeted gay.  When Andy’s fiancée breaks up with him, he moves in with Nick and slowly a friendship turns into a romance. 

There really isn’t a lot of resistance to Nick and Andy’s blossoming love. Andy’s powerful father seems to sanction the relationship. Nick’s family grudgingly accepts it. Even Andy’s former fiancée becomes the cheerleader for his new love.

Obstacles are easily overcome.

There isn’t much sex in We Could Be So Good. Nick and Andy wait a long time to consummate their relationship (Nick cannot believe that Andy really wants sex). Nick and Andy build a supportive social world in their Greenwich Village apartment, but it is far from countercultural. There are no drag queens or effeminate gay men in this fantasy world.

Sebastian has a breezy style that keeps the reader interested. She has done some basic research on New York gay life in the 1950s. However, the novel’s presentation of this unlikely couple is pure romantic fantasy. Andy’s immense wealth erases many of the problems he and Nick might face. We Could Be So Good is enjoyable light reading, but don’t look for the substance, emotional power, and gripping style one finds in novels like The Charioteer or recent serious gay fiction from writers like Brandon Taylor, Bryan Washington, John Boyne, Robert Jones, Jr., and Alejandro Varela.