From the author of Blackwood comes a prequel to The Great Gatsby. Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby's periphery, he was at the center of a very different story-one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I.
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 The mansions of Long Island have been replaced by the saloons of New Orleans ...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.
You can practically feel the elbow jabbing your ribs. 'You see? You see?' the story implores. “Here’s how Nick became the perfect narrator for Gatsby ... There’s a lot of that in Nick 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.