‘Nick’: A ‘Great Gatsby’ prequel that repeats the past

Nick

By Michael Farris Smith

Little, Brown. 304 pp. $27

Reviewed by Ron Charles

In one of the famous moments of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, Nick advises Gatsby, “You can’t redo the past,” and Gatsby replies, without hesitation, “Can’t repeat the past? Why can you!”

He was right, even at first.

On January 1, copyright at The great gatsby done, and one can do it again. The Fitzgerald literary estate and Scribner’s, which sold ten million copies of Gatsby, will no longer dominate this important text of our ancient culture. It’s like a fictional story of Pfizer losing its patent to Lipitor: Generic versions will flood the market. Side effects can include cliches and overfamiliarity. If you have constant anger, ask your English teacher.

Finally released into the public realm, Gatsby now the common wealth of artists and unscrupulous businesses rushes, to stretch out their hands. We’ll find new art prints, clever prints, cheap knockoff prints (be careful), and prints with prints by John Grisham and others. Fitzgerald’s lines can include songs, plays, and dramas. I hope that Nick will come out of the room, and those East Egg lushes will be seen again in the 1420s, the 1720s, and the atmosphere. We can tolerate radical film adaptations that make us nostalgic even for the approval of Baz Luhrmann in 2013.

Among the writers who waited for Fitzgerald’s copyright to expire was Michael Farris Smith. A few years ago, he took on the bold and difficult project of writing a prequel. The great gatsby. Now without legal restrictions, he was published NickA story about the years leading up to Nick Carraway’s move to Long Island, where he falls under the spell of a handsome gangster.

There are challenges with trying to extend – or challenge – a text of appreciation. Anxieties of power can lead to hysterical pastiche or a writer’s meltdown. But the best examples are not parodies or fan fiction. Consider, for example, Wide Sargasso SeaJean Rhys’s wife’s question of Jane Eyre, or otherwise Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are deadTom Stoppard’s reaction to life Hamlet. Both offer something that is enabled but not limited by their purpose.

Smith, the author of several Southern Gothic novels, is a skilled writer who approaches Fitzgerald’s work with respect and attention to detail. The one who knows The great gatsby hearing the sounds of the beautiful melancholy of that book, as Smith writes, “Nick sat with his memories the way one sits with pictures of women and with the children, holding the old edges and looking at the faces as if they were looking at an unanswered question. ”

Smith’s novel opens in France during World War I. Against his father’s advice, Nick decides to leave the routine of the Midwest. That strategy was very successful: he found himself enduring the horrors of trench warfare, which Smith describes in a way that beautifully reflects the poetry of Fitzgerald’s story. “The rifles went off when the bayonets were dropped and when they broke into the ribs, knives came out and hands and knees and hands and things. other that can be used to kill,” he wrote. “The explosions continued around them and they began to separate, the living and the dead and everything in between. Men and human parts.”

Nick’s witnessing and forced death would be enough to break most men, but his pain is compounded by an accident from the battlefield. As he leaves for Paris, he loves and dares to imagine a happy future with a woman who is “indefinite and beautiful and cut and thin and free and solid,” he says. fighting with the leopard. But when that dream falls apart in the worst possible way, Europe’s ash valley reveals its own desolation.

Creating a fitting tribute to Fitzgerald’s best novel is a remarkable feat, and Smith’s interpretation of Nick’s character is exceptional. It feels more like a confirmation than an expansion of the original story. If Smith doesn’t do bad things The great gatsby. In his own misfortune, Nick Nick Carraway keeps himself to people and good manners. We want a disturbing show; but we have a good alibi.

In the second half of the story, Nick returns to the United States “dark and deranged” and decides to go to New Orleans instead of home. With bans on the horizon, the Big Easy is a terrifying celebration of decadence. Haunted by survivor’s guilt and haunted by visions of war, Nick lives in a brothel – without drinking or getting high. “His only job,” he thought, “is to live and it seems to be a disaster.”

He might have been in that catatonic state forever, but one night he happened upon Judas, a fellow therapist, hobbling home. Although badly injured by poison gas on the battlefield, Judah returns from Europe and finds a degree of power and wealth in the rough streets of New Orleans. With a mixture of pain and power, Judah calls out for Nick’s love, and becomes a secret to the wounded man’s hidden wounds. Before long, Nick begins to serve as an alternative to Judah’s destructive relationship with a woman he loved and lost.

What develops provides a macabre counterpoint to The great gatsby. The mansions of Long Island have been replaced by the saloons of New Orleans, and the gangster subtext sounds like a jazz trombone. Nick, as we have seen before, is trapped among those who do not care to destroy things and creatures. And Smith begins to sound like the winner of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Contest: “Something vast and infinite opened within him,” he wrote, “and he flew into that space.” as infinite as a particle of dust carried thousands of miles and thousands of years by the endless wind that always covers the earth.”

Lots of foul play here – arson! thief! murder! – but for the most part in this second half of the story, the story is about Judas and the woman he really wants to take the company. Fitzgerald may have pushed Nick to the edges of his romantic love, but to the edges of The great gatsby, Nick remains an imaginative storyteller, the viewer at the same time enchanted and repelled. Indeed, this is what makes the other story of Gatsby and Daisy so compelling. Bring Nick’s mind back and the lurid side pops out of the water like a ship at low tide. By denying Nick that important role and relegating him, Smith asks that we become a set of noir caricatures and their lurid spitting just for his own sake.

We know that Nick will separate himself from this kind of relationship in New Orleans, but we also know that he will soon find himself somewhere else in New York, but with better clothes and prose pretty. In the final pages, when Smith shows Nick outside his small house seeing a man next door who appears to be “holding a magic high,” Nick seems to be learning nothing. something.

So we hit it off, as some have said.

From the Washington Post.

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