Smith intends to give us the B.G. (Before Gatsby) version of Nick, though how well this Nick meshes with the Nick we know from The Great Gatsby is debatable. Farris’s B.G. Nick seems too hard-used by the war to square neatly with the ironic, bantering Nick who will someday, between the covers of that other book, show up for dinner at the Buchanans. But such is the power of Nick that I found myself hardly caring whether one Nick squares with the other ... In all the ways that really matter, Nick is an exemplary novel. Smith delivers a moving, full-bodied depiction of a man who has been knocked loose from his moorings and is trying to claw back into his own life ... Smith creates an elegiac, meditative tone that serves as an apt counterpoint for the story’s through-line of desperation ... We hear echoes of Fitzgerald, of course, but also of Faulkner, Hemingway and a less baroque Cormac McCarthy. It’s a classic American sound, and Smith renders it with sufficient intensity that his iteration of chaos and depravity in 1919, in the wake of war, feels very much alive and relevant to 2021.
Smith, the author of several Southern Gothic novels, is a talented writer who approaches Fitzgerald’s work with reverence and close attention to detail. Anyone who knows The Great Gatsby will hear echoes of that book’s luxurious melancholy ... Creating a worthy homage to Fitzgerald’s finest novel is a remarkable accomplishment, and Smith’s explanation of Nick’s detached personality makes perfect sense. It feels, though, more like confirmation than expansion of the original story. If Smith does no violence to The Great Gatsby, he also breaks open little space for himself ... as polite and well-behaved as Nick Carraway himself ... What develops offers a macabre counterpoint to The Great Gatsby. The mansions of Long Island have been replaced by the saloons of New Orleans ... Withdraw Nick’s perspective and the lurid plot sticks out of the water like a shipwreck at low tide. By denying Nick that crucial role and pushing him aside, Smith asks that we become invested in a set of noir caricatures and their lurid spat simply for its own sake.
... an earnest but humid and ill-advised attempt to deepen a top-tier candidate for the Great American Novel by applying some backstory to its least interesting character ... Nick keeps making you wonder why it exists ... it’d be nice to think the real reason writers have resisted revisiting Gatsby in earnest is because it’s thematically sequel-proof. It’s a novel about the perils of nostalgia ... Smith doesn’t attempt to mimic Fitzgerald, but there’s a lot of ersatz Hemingway ... Ultimately, the novel becomes what Fitzgerald almost magically avoided in Gatsby—a melodrama ... Nick doesn’t so much clarify Nick’s character in Gatsby as photocopy it ... Nick may in the end be the worst subject for a spinoff. He, more than anyone, knew how foolish it can be to dwell on the past.
...brave and ambitious ... One of Smith’s most compelling insights is that many of the high-flying men partying through the Roaring ’20s, as depicted in Fitzgerald’s great novel, had only recently returned from the harrowing trench warfare of the First World War ... In previous novels, Smith has written eloquently and sometimes in excruciating detail about masculine brutality and trauma. He does so again in Nick ... Smith’s descriptions of warfare are cinematic, chilling and unforgettable ... This is just an outline of a deeper investigation of war and its consequences.
Smith latches on to one of these facts [about Nick] and completely forgets about the others. His Nick is the son of a man who runs a hardware business, which makes it hard to see how he made it to Yale, bond dealing and the high-class social circles of Daisy and Tom. There is no failed romance with a Midwestern debutante of the kind that Scott Fitzgerald experienced himself and imagined for Nick. Instead of fleshing out a backstory from these materials, Smith merely uses Nick as a hook on which to hang a war novel ... 'And' is Smith’s favourite word. He writes in very short sentences ... The style is not that of Fitzgerald. It is learnt from his mighty opposite, Ernest Hemingway. As are the bars and the brawls and the whores with hearts and the mud of the war and the shellshock. All of which are done very effectively Nick is eminently readable. It is merely misbranded ... it has much more in common with Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms ... The best part of the novel is the sequence telling of the brief love affair with the French girl in Paris when Smith’s Nick is on leave from the front.
I’m pleased to report that Smith’s novel is respectful ... it’s an homage to Fitzgerald that doesn’t seek to exhume or recontextualize as much as to expand the world of Gatsby ... What used to seem a travesty—imposing one’s own view on a classic work—now seems like an act of generosity.
The descriptions of combat are vivid and complete ... No reader of The Great Gatsby will be surprised by this opening portion; the transition to Fitzgerald's work is fairly seamless ... Having known Nick for decades, I am forced to admit that I am uncomfortable with him appearing in these pages. Nick is an interesting and well-written speculation about this legendary character before he traveled to Long Island to seek a new life. But there are other stories to tell, and this is not the one that I had hoped to hear.
Referred to as MFS by those who take his work personally because his stories do the talking for a certain strata of a particular region, in some ways Farris Smith’s clear, direct, and economic voice is an acquired taste even as his career prospers. But the publication of Nick will change all that, and wider readership will understand the attraction of this fearless writer who transcends literary limits and boundaries and plays by his own rules ... He gives us Nick Carraway’s backstory with an unvarnished depth of experience because the reader deserves it, and it’s what Farris Smith does best ... Its impact is profound, its resonance subterranean ... Once you dive into Nick, you’ll be held captive. Once you attune yourself to the rhythm of Farris Smith’s voice, you’ll follow him anywhere.
Noir is as adaptable as a writer dares to make it, which Smith shows in this compelling prequel to The Great Gatsby ... Smith’s evocation of trench warfare is strewn with rats and body parts, but, really, he’s just warming up ... It makes peculiar sense.
...dark and gripping ... Smith is a talented writer known mainly for his gritty evocations of violence, struggle, and loss in the U.S. South ... A compelling character study and a thoroughly unconventional prequel.
[An] evocative if underwhelming origin story ... Nick is more observer than participant, which makes him problematic as a main character; unlike in Fitzgerald’s novel, Nick’s function here isn’t clear ... Smith’s effort is a noble one, but it doesn’t do enough to deepen the reader’s understanding of one of 20th-century American literature’s enduring characters.