FICTION

Nick

Little, Brown. Jan. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780316529761. $27.
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Nick Carraway is the narrator of The Great Gatsby, but very little is known of his life before he arrived on Long Island. This latest novel from Smith (Desperation Road; The Hands of Strangers) imagines his backstory. Serving as a soldier in World War I, Nick spends dark and lonely nights reminiscing about his childhood in Minnesota, the tragedy of his mother’s illness, and the love of his life, Ella. Juxtaposing violent scenes of warfare and loss with his memories of love and family, Smith envisions Nick as an amalgamation of grief, empathy, and violence. Disillusioned after the war and wanting to avoid the dullness of his hometown, Nick heads to New Orleans, where he falls into alcoholism, destitution, and a convoluted arsonist plot. However, much as Fitzgerald wrote the character, Nick is merely witness to, never involved with, the stories and personalities constellating around him.
VERDICT Those expecting a prequel to The Great Gatsby will be disappointed, but just as Fitzgerald dismantled the myth of American exceptionalism with The Great Gatsby, Smith punctuates the longing and despair that underlie the American dream with this work.

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