The Not-So-Great Nick
I love The Great Gatsby. Like, it’s one of my favorite books of all time. The love story is something timeless and beautiful. The story of the grit behind the glamour of the 1920’s is oddly prescient in our current times. So, when I saw the cover for Nick by Michael Farris Smith I kind of lost my mind. It’s not the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, those are Nick’s eyes! Nick Carraway! Sam Waterston! TOBEY MAGUIRE! It’s an origin story for Nick, what’s not to like?! My wife said, “Why would someone write that?”
I get her sentiment now.
I got this book as an eARC from NetGalley (Thanks!) and this is the sixth or seventh book I’ve reviewed. I had people think that I’m being a shill because I rated all of them very well. Here’s the time where I say, no, I’m not a shill because this book is not good.
This book follows Nick’s time as a soldier in WWI, his time in New Orleans, and how he ends up in West Egg. It seems like a slam dunk, but it misses so hard. The Nick Carraway of this book is NOT the Nick Carraway of The Great Gatsby. I know Gatsby. I know Nick. Nick Carraway this is not. This Nick is empty, devoid of feeling besides pining and lust. That’s not Nick.
“But, Zach, it’s to show how he got to being the Nick we know and love in Gatsby!” Yeah, sure, but it’s almost impossible to reconcile this lusty, angry guy with the Nick of Gatsby. If you can explain the throughline, I’d love to hear from you because I just don’t get it.
So what about the book itself? Honestly, it’s meandering and confusingly written. It jumps from using proper punctuation to none at all. I get the stylistic choices that are made, but good writing sticks with one sense of style in a book. It would be different if the first section was Nick narrating then it switches to Judah or someone else for part two. Then a stylistic change would be warranted. This just doesn’t make any sense.
As for meandering, the whole plot in New Orleans is one giant mess. There is no cohesion, no clear path. It’s just a bunch of random vignettes thrown together and it just doesn’t track with me. The whole section could have been cut out and I wouldn’t have noticed.
(As a sidebar, this isn’t the first time I’ve been disappointed by a Gatsby related book. The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian was a similar disappointment.)
I hate to give bad reviews to prerelease books, but, man, this was a letdown. I’m giving this a 2/5, 3/10. You can pick this up on January 5th, 2021 and form your own opinion on the book. I’d love to hear what you think!
Thanks again to NetGalley for letting me read an advanced copy!