by Michael Farris Smith
Published 25 February 2021
No Exit Press
Rating: 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Genre: Historical Fiction
I participated in the book trailer social media Blitz for Nick by Michael Farris Smith in late 2020 and eagerly accepted an eARC of the book shortly thereafter. When the publisher once again contacted me ahead of publication wondering if I would like to participate in a review tour for the book, well of course I said yes! Thank you very much for the opportunity, No Exit Press. None of this has influenced by review. My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
In preparation for this review, I did also jump at the chance to review the audio ARC of the latest recording of The Great Gatsby last month and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Everyone remembers Nick Carraway, the unreliable and oh-so-passive narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but what did his first 30 years of life look like before he found himself renting next door to the mysterious wealthy party host? Michael Farris Smith set out to find out and share the answer with us. Now that copyright has lapsed on Gatsby I expect we’ll get a lot more retellings and spinoff stories, but this will be remembered as the first prequel story, and a strong one at that!
NICK gives us glimpses into plenty of different events and time periods throughout Nick’s life, from flashbacks to childhood, to wartime horrors and retreats in Europe, to reluctant wandering upon his return to the USA. The tone and emotions ride a rollercoaster up and down in line with the joys and horrors on Nick’s life and never quite let the reader settle into one extreme or the other for too long. This is absolutely one excellent possible backstory that formed the broken shell we meet in Fitzgerald’s book.
The difference between a 4 and a 5 on this book, or the reason it didn’t absolutely blow me away, aren’t really the book or author’s fault. They’re my fault. It’s about my expectations and how I imagined Nick’s earlier life (and later life.) I’m absolutely in camp queer when it comes to speculating on was Nick attracted to Gatsby’s lifestyle or was Nick attracted to Gatsby, and this prequel didn’t give any strong indications that Smith thinks that’s what was going on. I also wasn’t at all prepared for interludes into memories from childhood that chop up the narrative. I would have preferred to either start with childhood or skip it entirely and start with teen or adult Nick preparing to go to war.
This really is a great book, and I would recommend it broadly to fans of historical fiction, but I would caution lovers of The Great Gatsby in particular that this book may or may not live up to your expectations. Gatsby has been such a pillar in literature, so well studied and discussed over the last century, that I think at this point anyone who cares to know Nick’s story has already drafted their own backstory for him in some level of detail, and this may not reflect those individual visions. Go into this read with the expectations you set for a new, unrelated work or for fan fiction, whichever works best for you, and remember that while this is inspired by Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway, nobody can truly know at this point what Fitzgerald had in mind. This is one possibility and it’s very well written.