In this retelling of The Great Gatsby, character Jordan Baker is reimagined as a queer Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers and blocked from opening certain doors to society and power. But her work with magic gives her access to a different kind of power.
Vo’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is completely ridiculous, and I love it with the passion of a thousand burning hearts ... Not only does Vo capture the timbre of Fitzgerald’s lush prose, but she follows the trajectory of the novel’s contrails into another realm ... sounds like some monstrous act of literary desecration like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies doing the Charleston. But The Chosen and the Beautiful is much closer to Joyce Carol Oates’s 2013 novel, The Accursed, her fiend-infused history of Princeton University ... Vo’s audacious amendments shift the register of The Great Gatsby, creating a story that galvanizes Fitzgerald’s classic and leaves a new one vibrating alongside. It may sound counterintuitive, but Vo’s introduction of witchcraft, necromancy and enchantment miraculously produces a more relevant novel than that poetic tale of a gaudy stalker and his closeted pimp that’s been passed off for decades as the ultimate interrogation of the American Dream. By inflating the story’s most fantastical implications, The Chosen and the Beautiful offers a timely consideration of class exploitation, sexual aggression and racial privilege ... Even the smallest enchanted details are tinged with infernal infection ... This novel’s wry wit and eerie eroticism are surely not for every mortal, but from the old bones of an American classic, Vo has conjured up something magically alive.
One expects to find novels like this on the shelves of a dream library, where all the great books that were never written reside ... a vibrant and queer reinvention of F. Scott Fitzgerald's jazz age classic ... I was captivated from the first sentence ... Vo gives us a dreamy, sharply-drawn glamour; a vibrant, penetrating exploration of character. The Chosen and the Beautiful is exactly enough ... why not raise a glass to Nghi Vo, whose name on the spine of a book seems to mean that whatever the pages within hold will be superlative?
The Chosen and the Beautiful deserves to be read as closely as the book that inspired it. Vo’s prose is beautifully supple, and the novel shines when she reads Gatsby against the grain ... The novel falters, though, when integrating fantasy more generally: It’s such a tight reversal of its original’s core dynamics that there isn’t room for the fantastic elements to do more than gild the story’s lily. They only echo, diminished and indistinct, the tensions Vo’s already playing with to good effect, obstructing each other where they should blend, like a cocktail made with fine spirits but mixed in awkward proportions. Despite that, the book remains a sumptuous, decadent read.