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Critically acclaimed novelist Michael Farris Smith pulls Nick Carraway out of the shadows and into the spotlight in this fascinating look into his life before 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.

Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed firsthand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance—doomed from the very beginning—to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavor of debauchery and violence.

An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know but few have pondered deeply. Charged with enough alcohol, heartbreak, and profound yearning to paralyze even the heartiest of golden age scribes, Nick reveals the man behind the narrator who has captivated readers for decades.

292 pages, Hardcover

First published January 5, 2021

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About the author

Michael Farris Smith

17 books774 followers
Michael Farris Smith is an award-winning writer whose novels have appeared on Best of the Year lists with Esquire, NPR, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Oprah Magazine, Book Riot, and numerous other outlets, and have been named Indie Next, Barnes & Noble Discover, and Amazon Best of the Month selections. He has also written the feature-film adaptations of his novels Desperation Road and The Fighter, titled for the screen as Rumble Through the Dark. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife and daughters.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 764 reviews
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
434 reviews4,266 followers
May 30, 2023
Check out my 1 minute spoiler-free review here: https://youtu.be/vR4qN_ADo68

Nick is the much anticipated prequel to The Great Gatsby. It follows Nick Carraway as he fights on the US side of World War I, has a brief romance in Paris, and has adventures in New Orleans as he helps a wounded soldier.

This book was very gloomy, but it didn't come across as very moving. In some ways, I give the author a little bit of credit because in The Great Gatsby Nick was aloof, he was observing. However, it doesn't make a great book. Further, I didn't care about the people that Nick met. In Paris, he only spends one week with Ella, and in New Orleans, there is some exciting things that happen, but we don't know any of the characters so why should we care? One of my favorite authors usually takes about 100-200 pages to build up his characters before anything really significant happens because otherwise you just don't care as a reader what happens to this person. Nick spends a great amount of time, "Oh woe is me" when in reality he barely knew the Paris person and he is so loaded via his daddy that he doesn't even bother working and instead thinks about how awful things are for him. Not a particularly winning strategy....

This book is in sharp contrast to The Great Gatsby where Nick described Gatsby as (The Great Gatsby is now public domain so I feel so happy to be quoting by the way) has "an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness and which it is not likely I shall ever find again." This was the opposite of that. Nick is very hopeless, and this book is very depressing. I wanted to DNF it about 30-40 pages in to be quite honest. Additionally, Daisy was asking Nick about a rumored fiancée at the beginning of the Great Gatsby, and Nick informs her that she was just a childhood friend. Um where is the childhood friend in this book?!

This is the first book that I have read by this author. The prose was decent, but it failed to connect with the emotions. It was a chore to read this book which is always a bad sign. Further, a prequel to the classic Great Gatsby are HUGE shoes to fill. Fitzgerald crafted a story full of double meaning and he can describe things with such beauty. For example, when we meet Daisy, she is sitting in a room with fluttering curtains almost as if she is floating on a balloon. Daisy's voice is described as money and people lean in to hear it. She speaks to you as if you are the person she most wanted to see in the world. This is magic. This book was not. It lacked the beautiful descriptions and it didn't seem that anyone in the book was extraordinary.

2023 Reading Schedule
Jan Alice in Wonderland
Feb Notes from a Small Island
Mar Cloud Atlas
Apr On the Road
May The Color Purple
Jun Bleak House
Jul Bridget Jones’s Diary
Aug Anna Karenina
Sep The Secret History
Oct Brave New World
Nov A Confederacy of Dunces
Dec The Count of Monte Cristo

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Profile Image for Angela M .
1,309 reviews2,191 followers
July 30, 2020
When I first saw this cover it was just way too reminiscent of the cover of an edition of The Great Gatsby and I had mixed feelings about whether to read it or not. I’m not a fan of rewrites of classics so I was even more anxious since it’s my favorite book. The Great Gatsby has so much of my heart, that I have never been able to write a review of it, even after multiple rereads for fear of not being able to aptly describe what I feel about this book. I’m digressing, but maybe I’ll try one day. I was, however, intrigued with the description of this book, and I was drawn in because Nick Carraway is one of my favorite characters and I wondered what his “younger and more vulnerable years” might be like since Fitzgerald doesn’t tell us much about that. Thankfully, it’s not a rewrite. It takes the reader up to Nick’s arrival on West Egg and his first glimpse of Jay Gatsby in the last pages and I was not disappointed in the pages before that. I was fascinated with Michael Farris Smith’s imagined Nick, loved Nick as much, if not more, moved by the story and the fabulous writing.

The novel opens with Nick ending a leave in Paris and returning to the brutal, bloody horrors of WWI battle. While on leave, he meets and falls in love with a young French woman, Ella. A good part of the story focuses on Nick’s time in battle and his time with Ella. The descriptions are graphic and detailed with blood and body parts and fear and are not easy to read. So intense - as he chooses to work in the tunnels, digging, setting explosives and listening, but also thinking of Ella, with flashbacks to their time together, to his life growing up in Minnesota before the war. This is a third person narrative, yet so intimate and introspective. His father owned a hardware business and he assumes Nick will come into the business. They seemed to live a comfortable life, but it was a sad one for Nick as he tries to understand and deal with his mother’s recurring periods of “darkness.” One of the most poignant scenes is Nick reading to his mother at night during one of those times when she is bedridden and so overwhelmed by the “darkness” of depression. He later reads to Ella when nursing her back during a time that will haunt Nick.

After the war, Smith depicts a time of wandering and a lost Nick, avoiding going home to Minnesota for New Orleans. He dreams or has nightmares, I should say of the war, the bloody scenes, the cries for help that he is unable to answer. Gut wrenching. He dreams of Ella and is haunted by her and their story. He’s pulled into the circle of other characters whose lives are mired in booze and violence, and the trauma of the war. The time and place - New Orleans during prohibition - I felt as if I was there.

Having enjoyed the book, I still have a niggling feeling that this has messed with The Great Gatsby in some way and I can’t bring myself to give it 5 stars. It has me wondering how it will impact my next reread of it. I’ll be asking myself if this the Nick that Gatsby envisioned, with these heartbreaking times in his life. I read that in January, 2021, the copyright will end on Fitzgerald’s novel. The publication date of this book coincides with that . Who knows what rewrites we’ll find then ? I doubt that I’ll be reading any of them . But I’m glad I read this novel.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Little Brown through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews618 followers
July 25, 2020
I’m a huge fan of Michael Farris Smith. He is a ridiculously talented atmospheric and riveting author....
a phenomenal storyteller who gives much respect to his characters....( and to his women characters even if they are down & out, hurting and suffering something fierce).

I’ve read “Rivers”, “Desperation Road”, “The Fighter”, Blackwood”,
“The Hands of Strangers”, and now, most recently “Nick”.

I get excited when Michael Farris Smith comes out with a new novel....and “Nick”, exceeded my expectations. It’s one of my favorites.....( a three way tie with “Rivers” and “Desperation Road”).

ANYONE who is a Michael Farris Smith fan and/or a “Great Gatsby” fan, will be in ‘aw’ at how ‘real’ this story feels. Fiction? Couldn’t be....it just feels much too real!!

So YES, YES YES, this book is wonderful....with seamless, mesmerizing gorgeous prose. It’s a story about love, loss, heartbreak, war, duty, and deceit. There’s violence - friendships, alcohol, card games, seduction, sickness, graphic brutality, childhood memories, passion, goodness, evil, disappointments, hope, and moments of pure joy.
It’s sooooo thoroughly engrossing.....it felt like the pages were just turning themselves. I HONESTLY WANT THIS BOOK TO KEEP GOING....

Michael Farris Smith brilliantly stretches our imaginations — by giving us an opportunity to think about Nick Carraway, before “The Great Gatsby”. I was reminded that characters have lives before and after our stories.

Nick Carraway, was the young - flawed - narrator in “The Great Gatsby”. We knew Nick was from Minnesota... educated at Yale.... and fought in WWI.
Nick was a loyal friend to Jay Gatsby....even though he knew Gatsby was dishonest.

We are taken on a journey in “Nick”... and once you crack the book open, you won’t want to put it down.

A few sample teasers:
“Nick twirled the cigar. Set it next to his plate. The sun disappeared behind scattered clouds and across the square soldiers lay on their backs or on their sides and try to find sleep. Birds gathered and danced around scraps of bread or rice and those who did not smoke swapped cigarettes for chocolate. Nick’s hand began to tremble and he looked at it and said you don’t have to do this right now. You are sitting in a little French town with your stomach full and a nice woman has given you a cigar to go along with your cigarettes and your chocolate. So stop shaking and relax. Smoke your cigar”.

“He thought she seemed like something out of a story and that their meeting and then eating and now walking felt like the product of someone’s imagination but then as they moved along Boulevard de Clichy and up into Montmartre she seemed to merge into the physical world”.

This famous quote from “The Great Gatsby”, shows up again ( fitting), again in “Nick”.
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’”.

The scenes with ‘Ella’ are visual & ‘gut-felt’. Hard to get several scenes of my mind... ( not happening).
I’ll be thinking about this story - the characters - for a long time.

“Nick” got me so in the ‘everything Gatsby mood’.....> Paul and I are having a Saturday night ‘at home’ (sheltering-in-place), date > watching, “The Great Gatsby”, movie tonight.

Thank you Little Brown and Company, Netgalley, and Michael Farris Smith....( BIG THANKS)... loved it!!!

Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews187 followers
January 25, 2021
3.5 stars.

Michael Farris Smith takes the narrator of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, and imagines his life prior to the events of the classic novel.
The first part of the story is set during WW1 and follows Nick’s fortunes on the front line in France - a long nightmare of bloody battles and constant fear. During short periods of leave in Paris he strikes up a relationship with Ella, a nomadic free spirit ..... an affair, that in his damaged state becomes all consuming.
Psychologically broken, Nick can’t face going home as the war comes to an end. He detours, randomly to New Orleans and enters a sleazy, pre prohibition world of chancers, prostitutes, drugs and abject poverty.
Nick falls in with some dangerous and desperate characters and a twisted drama plays out that has some strange echoes of the Great Gatsby storyline.
In an introduction to the book MFS discusses his writing life, his bouts of depression and why he was drawn to Nick Carraway as a character (he too was a dislocated ex pat feeling his life was running away from him) and it’s interesting how these elements become important themes in the book.
In The Great Gatsby Nick is an integral part of the plot but is also slightly detached, an honest outsider observing those around him, not quite connecting. In this novel his relationship to the story and characters felt similar. This was probably intended, but I wanted to know him more and really get under his skin. His PTSD, emotional background and family life were well described but I still felt he was an enigma. I never felt that I fully understood his actions.
Michael Farris Smith is a very good writer and creates a convincing picture of post WW1 New Orleans. He builds some strong characters and a plot full of high drama. For me though, the darkness that blankets the novel from beginning to end is so uniform and unvarying that some of the poignancy and power is lost.
Despite having mixed feelings about this novel, it is well worth reading and as always, I look forward to next book by this author.

Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for this ARC.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,714 reviews25k followers
November 1, 2020
Michael Farris Smith heads into different territory with this breathlessly ambitious imaginative backstory of one of the most famous narrators in American literary history, as he pays homage to the little known observant outsider that is Nick Carraway in F Scott Fitgerald's classic The Great Gatsby. This prequel has the author flesh out Nick, now taking centre stage, vividly constructing how he came to be who he is, taking the reader right up to his arrival in West Egg, to become the friend and neighbour of Jay Gatsby. Nick grew up in Minnesota, unable to face small town life and the future that awaits him if he were to remain. He ends up in Europe and France, in the midst of all the harrowing horrors and trauma of WW1, trench warfare, surrounded by death and destruction, sharply contrasting with life in Paris that he experiences on leave, falling in love with a French woman, Ella, a doomed affair right from the start.

When the war comes to a close, the introverted Nick is no longer the man he used to be, he is haunted and broken, torn asunder by all that he has seen, physically, emotionally and mentally scarred. When he returns to the US, a lost soul, he makes the impulsive decision not to go back home, but head to impoverished, vice ridden, violent New Orleans with its alcohol, prohibition and amorality instead, plagued by nightmares, in search of hope and redemption until he steps into his role as we know it in The Great Gatsby. No novel by this author is ever going to be a feel good read, this treads bleak and dark territory, written with such vibrancy and rich descriptions that are Farris Smith's trademark style.

You feel as if you know and understand Nick with his flashbacks, are right there in the grim realities of war, love, and loss that Nick cannot ever erase, all of which explain his remoteness and distance from others, the outsider status that defines his role in F Scott Fitzgerald's novel. The author's beautifully realised flawed and damaged characterisation of Nick connects perfectly with that of the Nick from the classic novel, capturing how our personal histories make us the people we are in the present. Many thanks to Oldcastle Books for an ARC.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews691 followers
October 13, 2020
Copy furnished by Net Galley for the price of a review.

Well, shoot.  It feels as though I had a dinner date scheduled with Michael Farris Smith and someone entirely different showed up in his stead.  I have loved all his fiction up until now, but this simply did not have the appeal to me of his other novels. 

What makes for a special occasion?  Depending on the circumstances,  it may amount to no more than being alive.  War becomes a part of a person, his body and his mind, the scars left on both.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,081 reviews620 followers
July 22, 2021
In his forward the author states that he’s read The Great Gatsby three times and that the first time he read it, as a student, it provoked practically no reaction in him at all. But by the third reading he found that the book was speaking to him and furthermore he began to wonder about Nick Carraway, the man through whose eyes the story is told. Very little is disclosed about Carraway and in fact MFS had only gleaned three facts: he fought in the Great War, he was from the Midwest and he was turning thirty. Wouldn’t it be interesting if somebody were to write his story…

As this prequel to TGG begins Nick is sat in a café in Paris, he's about to return to the front and so to resume a life of tedium and terror. He is with a woman, someone he’s met whilst on leave – of this we’re to learn much more later. He’s reluctant to depart the city and the girl but determined to do his duty. Once back the trenches we learn of how boredom alternates with fear and almost unbelievable violence. Nick is a loner who disappears into himself and thinks of the girl he left in Paris and how he plans to find her should he manage to escape the nightmare of this war. Later, at a point after the war, Nick finds himself in New Orleans and caught up in a feud that has had terrible consequences. Once again, it’s clear that though he’s amongst people he remains in many ways alone, and now haunted by events of the past.

Throughout, the story has a dystopian feel to it: grimness and a poverty seem to be ever present, as does violence and a sense of general lawlessness. The latter sections of the book could almost have been penned by James Lee Burke, such is its lyrical flow and astonishing descriptiveness. In fact, the whole thing is extremely well written, as I’ve learned to expect from this writer. It’s also engaging in the way it forced me invest in Nick’s plight - though I knew the end point it was by no means certain just how damaged Nick would be by the time we got there.

There’s no light and shade here, it’s all shade. This is a dark tale, make no mistake. Consequently I found this a tough read, but definitely a rewarding one. I feel that I now know Nick Carraway and, in fact, plan to re-read Gatsby – a book that passed me by on the first read, too – in order to re-acquaint myself with that story and perhaps re-appraise it. I want to see if I too can gain a new appreciation of what is thought to be one of the great American books of the 20th Century.

My thanks to Oldcastle Books and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,147 reviews2,767 followers
November 17, 2020
Nick gives us the story of Nick Carraway in the years leading up to his appearance in West Egg, in his life before he meets Jay Gatsby. Starting in the trenches of WWI, Smith gives us some of the most graphic descriptions of the war. I felt myself there - the mud, the explosions, the dead. We are given glimpses of his childhood, of his mother with her dark spells. Nick survives but is traumatized. He refuses to return home, landing instead in New Orleans. Here, Nick meets Collette and Judah and we hear another perspective of how the war damaged souls. “Realizing he had been over there. That’s how they look, she thought. Their eyes are there but they are not there. Sunk back from their sockets and adrift in some opaque ocean of memory.”
Nick was the observer, the outsider, in The Great Gatsby. This book seeks to explain how he came to be that way.
The book is beautifully written. At times, it seems almost dream, or nightmare, like. But it lacks cohesion. We wander along with Nick. We move from scene to scene, witness events, but they never felt connected. And the latter chapters don’t help to understand who Nick is.
I was a fan of Blackwood and will definitely give Smith another chance.
My thanks to netgalley and Little, Brown for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,902 reviews534 followers
April 2, 2021
I just have to accept the fact that I am not that crazy about this author’s writing style. This is the fourth book I have read by him that I thought was just ok. I probably wouldn’t have read this book if it weren’t for the Gatsby connection, only to find that the use of the name Nick Carraway is only a marketing ploy. The protagonist of this book could have been any man who served in the war, came home damaged, wandered a bit and settled in West Egg. That location, on the final pages of the book, is the only connection to “The Great Gatsby”. You definitely do not have to read Gatsby before reading this book.

The first part of the book focuses on Nick’s war experience and his love affair with a young French woman. The majority of the book (my favorite part) takes place in New Orleans, where Nick becomes tangentially involved in the warlike marriage of a seriously ill veteran and his wife, who started a brothel while her husband was at war. Nick is more of an observer here than a participant, but his role in Gatsby isn’t much different. 3.5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
Want to read
July 12, 2020
must...make it...through...2020...

Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,050 reviews48.7k followers
January 4, 2021
In one of the many famous moments of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, Nick warns Gatsby, “You can’t repeat the past,” and Gatsby replies, incredulously, “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”

He was right, though early.

(Watch the Totally Hip Video Book Review of "Nick" here.)

On Jan. 1, 2021, the copyright on “The Great Gatsby” expires, and anybody can repeat it. The Fitzgerald literary estate and Scribner’s, which has sold tens of millions of copies of “Gatsby,” no longer control this essential text of our cultural past. It’s like a literary version of Pfizer losing its patent to Lipitor: Generic versions will flood the market. Side effects may include cliches and overfamiliarity. If you experience continued irritation, consult your English teacher.

Finally set loose in the public domain, “Gatsby” is now the common property of creative artists and unscrupulous entrepreneurs who will run faster, stretch out their arms farther. We’ll see new illustrated editions, scholarly editions, cheap knockoff editions (beware) and editions with introductions by John Grisham and others. Fitzgerald’s lines could make their way into more songs, plays and operas. I suspect Nick will finally come out of the closet, and those East Egg lushes will reappear in the 1420s, the 1720s and space. We might endure radical movie adaptations that will make us nostalgic even for Baz Luhrmann’s authorized desecration in 2013.

Among the authors who waited for Fitzgerald’s copyright to expire is Michael Farris Smith. Several years ago, he conceived the bold and arduous project of writing a prequel to “The Great Gatsby.” Now unencumbered by legal restrictions, he’s published “Nick,” a story about the years leading up to Nick Carraway’s move to Long Island, where he falls under the spell of that charming gangster. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,492 reviews2,733 followers
November 16, 2020
I've loved some of Farris Smith's books and thought this was a bold departure: to imagine the back-story of Nick Carraway, the bystander-narrator of The Great Gatsby. Sadly, it didn't really work for me. I think the issue is that it's too packed with events, and that the writing doesn't really engage strongly enough with the story being told.

MFS is usually a strong and subtle writer but this seems to be overly plot-driven as it shifts from WW1 trenches to New Orleans and crams in masses of events including war, PTSD, revenge, love, prohibition and criminality, redemption... the ending has Nick poised on the cusp of meeting Jay Gatsby but otherwise there's no connection between the books. Not that I wanted trite links but actually I don't know why this is linked to Gatsby at all: it could be about any young American. Sorry, not really for me.

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,290 reviews1,331 followers
November 13, 2020
It just does that.....

The syllable becomes the word and the words become the telling. And within all this, Michael Farris Smith draws us back in time to the imprint of a character so embedded in our minds through The Great Gatsby that it becomes hard to envision Nick in any other setting but that of Long Island. Nick, hunkered down in the old servant's cabin, gazing up at the immense mansion encased in wealth beyond the mind's eye.

But Smith reminds us that we are all products of the human experience. We are simply more complicated, more intricate, more chiseled than that which we present to the world as ourselves. As Smith will show us through Nick, we have depths within us that lead eventually to an abyss of untapped emotions and reactions kept submerged beneath the surface. Fear resides heartily. We forbid ourselves from ever touching the rough edges.

Nick Carraway is thrust into the era of World War I where youth is snuffed out in seconds with the shock and impact of immediate death on the battlefield. Smith describes the brutality as artillery fire rains down on these young men crawling on their bellies to the front. One thing that stayed with me is Smith's description of "the trenches" that these soldiers dug out to secure short-lived safety. Nick and every soldier from every war appear to exist within their own personal trenches in war's aftermath. Safety and security just never seems to exist for them long after the smoke clears.

The wheel of the story now turns and we find Nick on leave in Paris. He catches the eye of a young French woman named Ella. Nick's French is so limited as well as Ella's English. But together, they fall into a rhythm of being. Nick promises to return. And the aftermath of this love affair will haunt Nick for the rest of his days.

Returning to the Midwest and to his family after the war is not quite an option for Nick now. He randomly chooses to head down to New Orleans to tread water for a while. He desperately needs to experience "life beyond the butchery" of war. But what Nick will find in New Orleans in Frenchtown will be a civil war between the loved and the unloved layered with treachery and vengeance. Never more have I seen "the walking wounded" trying to breathe life into another soul without the whisper of a breath from within.

Michael Farris Smith embraced Nick's story with quite the undertaking. We walked down long winding streets and detailed descriptions of events. Words became heavy-handed at times. But no one slips beneath the surface like Smith does and invades the inner workings and the inner thought chambers like Smith does. He's a master of the dark intricacies of the wounded soul. And with that, Nick becomes a more multi-faceted character who has observed life from all sides as he looks up at that length and breadth of Gatsby's veneer of a mansion.

I received a copy of Nick through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Little, Brown, and Company and to the talented Michael Farris Smith for the opportunity.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book564 followers
January 30, 2022
And if there is one thing the lost are able to recognize it is the others who are just as wounded and wandering.

This book purports to be a prequel to The Great Gatsby, an exploration of the earlier life of Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s narrator. While some might say we learn little of Nick in Gatsby, I would disagree. I have always felt I knew exactly who he was, so I was in a bit of trepidation at picking up this novel. I’m not a fan of retelling stories or expanding on characters. It is seldom done well.

I address that first, because I want to say emphatically that this is NOT a retelling or in my opinion even an expansion of an existing character. I felt this Nick had no correlation to Fitzgerald’s Nick, in fact, I would have been more persuaded that he was Nick Adams than Nick Carraway. You need not have even read Gatsby to fully appreciate this story. Not to beat a dead horse, but if I could change anything about this novel it would be this unnecessary and tenuous tie-in that seems in truth to be more of a marketing decision–Michael Farris Smith does not need to attach his books to F. Scott Fitzgerald to make them have appeal!

What made me read this novel, in fact, was its author, Michael Farris Smith. I have read several of his other novels and found them excellent fare. This one is no exception, it is reflective of his style and his ability to spin a great story and hold you on the edge of your seat. Everything in this novel is uniquely his, from the vivid and painful war scenes to the dual love stories…if you can call them that. He has an uncanny way of making a strange or unusual character seem very real and acceptable, in fact, downright relatable.

We find ourselves, upon opening the book, on the battlefields of World War I France. As brutal wars go, WWI was particularly horrid, with far reaching effects on those who fought and survived.

And this was the worst time of day. After the fight and after the recovery and before nightfall. Those who remained waited for the sounds and they came, the voices from no man’s land. The calls for help. The strained cries of dying.

Nick is no exception to this rule, he is suffering. A brief encounter with a girl while on leave in Paris complicates matters even further, and sets in motion a haunting that he carries home with him to the States. Unable to take up his life with his parents in the midwest, he finds his way to New Orleans, where he finds his days of being a front-row witness to tragedy are not over.

...he folded the paper and set it on the floor next to the chair and he said to the attic the world repeats itself. He said it with certainty as if it was something he had always known but just now found the courage to admit. I have been here before and I will be here again.

Perhaps the question this book poses is How do you live through a trauma, an unspeakable horror, and then find the way to fashion a life that is not a reflection of that? Takes the ultimate in courage, I think, and yet so many people have done it throughout history. Maybe one of the side effects is that you know what can be lost and you appreciate life so much more for it.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,739 reviews476 followers
February 8, 2021
Michael Farris Smith has written a prequel to The Great Gatsby showing the earlier life of Nick Carraway, the character who narrates F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic book. Nick was the quiet observer, the cousin of Daisy Buchanan, and the confidant of Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan. When Nick moved to wealthy West Egg, New York, in 1922, he had recently fought in the Great War and he was bored with working in his Midwestern family's hardware business. Prohibition had started two years earlier. Nick was trying to make a new beginning, but what prompted his fresh start? The prequel imagines the reasons behind Nick's move to New York to start anew.

Nick grew up in a small Minnesota town where he helped his father in his hardware store, and often read to his mother who suffered from long, dark periods of depression. After attending Yale, he volunteered to fight in the Great War and was sent to France. His horrific experiences in the trenches and the tunnels, and the loss of an important relationship devastated him. Suffering from PTSD, he didn't feel ready to face his hometown and headed to New Orleans instead. Always willing to help the downtrodden, he cared for a seriously disabled war veteran. He became involved with the lives of a group of people in the violent city as he searched for redemption.

Michael Farris Smith writes about traumatized people very well. The reader feels like they are in Nick's head as he listens for enemy footsteps as he sits in a tunnel in France, or as he is haunted by memories going around and around his mind. Smith's Nick seems more troubled at the end of "Nick" than Fitzgerald's character in "The Great Gatsby." But that is partly due to his different role in the classic book--acting as the observer of the interactions among the other characters. "Nick" does not try to rewrite "The Great Gatsby," but gives the reader a greater understanding of Nick Carraway, the returning soldiers, the general mood of the country at that time, and the difficulty of moving on in life after trauma. Recommended!
Profile Image for Nigel.
851 reviews98 followers
February 16, 2023
In brief - Wonderful writing and some parts I loved but just SO bleak.

In full
This is Nick's story before he knew Gatsby (as in the Great Gatsby). It starts in Paris during WW1 with Nick on leave from the front line trenches. He has met a girl there but his leave ends and he reluctantly returns to war. The writing is vividly evocative and when Nick volunteers for tunnelling the sense of claustrophobia is very real. The story follows Nick back to the USA after the war. His mental scarring is vivid at times and he decides not to return to his family but to go to New Orleans instead. Most of the remainder of the book focusses on his time there. Prohibition is coming and he meets some colourful characters. Alcohol and drugs figure along with a dark sense of despair at times.

Nick's time in the war and in Paris really grabbed me. The experiences on the front line in the trenches and tunnels were vivid. During the lulls he reflects on times past and the quality of the writing was clear. The underlying theme throughout this book is what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This story is both haunted and haunting particularly in New Orleans.

The writing here is wonderfully vivid. I've not read the Great Gatsby however I'm not sure that it is necessary to read that book before Nick. I have really enjoyed other books by this author. However, for me, this was unremitting bleak at times particularly in New Orleans. I found Nick very good as a character and perfectly believable. The other main characters were also very real to me and well crafted. Ultimately I cannot claim to have enjoyed this book I think. The writing is wonderful and parts I really enjoyed but parts of it are so bleak. I do plan to read more from this author and I am sure many fans will enjoy this. I would suggest new readers start elsewhere though.

Note - I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
January 11, 2021
Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.

Before Gatsby and that silly fool Daisy and the glitter of the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway finds himself in the trenches of WWI and chasing an unforgettable woman in Paris. Oh, it was good and it had me hooked. This prequel turned the focus on a character that I had often wondered about each time I read The Great Gatsby. Nick emerges as a son haunted by events of his childhood, a mother who battled mental illness and a domineering father who wants to dictate his son's life. So very interesting. Then the story shifts to the return to the US, with Nick dealing with aftershocks of the battlefield and no yearning to return to his hometown. So he flees to the fascinating city of New Orleans and much intrigue does ensue. However, it didn't really hook me like the first half of the book. Yet at the same time, it does show the reader that Nick appears to be the type of fellow who gets himself caught up in the intrigues of a couple's relationship.

Now that the copyright of The Great Gatsby has expired, I certainly look forward to all that will transpire in the literary world. Nick gives us a promising beginning of a new chapter that will likely create new fans of the American classic. What's Daisy got to say for herself?

Goodreads review published 11/01/21
Publication Date 05/01/21
Profile Image for Monte Price.
674 reviews1,849 followers
September 14, 2022
I find this book to be completely unrateable...

I think that the book takes a stab at giving itself a reason to exist. Ostensibly it crafts a narrative about Nick Carraway prior to when we encounter him in The Great Gatsby, and honestly... if this was what he was up to... I'm not sure that I needed to experience it.

There were elements of the book that I definitely appreciated. There were moments that I thought were interesting, but nothing that I would say was a must read. If anything I felt that if this was what Nick was up to then it was almost better that Fitzgerald kept it to himself... and Smith should have gone back to the drawing board with it.

In a story like this I would have preferred if some of the narrative focused on giving Carraway more depth, examined his character, given us more of study... Instead we got a lot of domestic violence that Carraway had to see, some descriptions of World War I that felt more like something you'd hear in a Hemingway discussion and not something out of The Great Gatsby despite the time the boook is set in....

Obviously this book has an audience, I've seen a lot of other reviews that really praised what Smith was able to do here, for me though I don't think that as executed this adds anything meaningful to the conversation...

More thoughts found in my reading vlog.
Profile Image for Shellie Zeigler.
541 reviews7 followers
May 31, 2020
First off, many thanks to Edelweiss for an advanced copy of Nick. This review is my own. The classic tale “The Great Gatsby” is told through the eyes of outsider Nick Carraway. Readers know that Nick is from Minnesota and he fought in World War I. Other than those facts, there is no real backstory to Nick. Author Michael Farris Smith is going to give you a hell of a lot of insight on not only what Nick endured in WWI, but his journey that led him to West Egg. The novel “Nick” is scheduled to be published in early 2021. Admittedly, I am a great fan of “The Great Gatsby” and well aware of Nick Carraway. Even so, I never thought much about Nick’s life before arriving in West Egg. “Nick” is a tale of romance, redemption, belonging, and lost love. Once I started the novel, I was compelled to keep reading. Nick’s time in WWI is expressed in both fascinating detail and compassion for all involved. The woman Nick meets in Paris will break your heart and have you hoping against hope that it all works out in the end. The journey Nick takes after the war ends is bizarre and an intriguing glimpse of New Orleans during Prohibition days. A stellar read, I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,800 reviews2,393 followers
May 30, 2021

"Today is one of those days, NICK is on big sale in the kindle, nook, and ibooks stores, a whopping 2.99" - 5/30/2021

Michael Farris Smith shares the story of Nick, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, his life leading up the days when he moves next door to the Gatsby mansion. It opens as Nick is seated at a corner café in Paris where he is wont to spend his mornings, drinking espresso while the ”hours of his leave tick away and on the days when the sun filtered through the trees and fell upon the cathedral across the street it seemed to him that there could be no killing. There could be no war.” His memories occasionally turning to the ordinary moments of his childhood, his mother tending the garden, his father tending to things in the garage, sharpening a shovel or other tool, his neighborhood of ”sidewalks and shade trees” where houses were without much variation. A time and place where women were often seen in aprons as men were returning home from work, checking first to see what had been prepared for their supper, and then went off to change out of their white dress shirt and remove their tie, and have a moment or two to relax at the end of their hard day. A life that, for Nick, seems far removed from how he is spending his days when he is not on leave.

Life isn’t like that, not anymore, not even in Paris as he is on leave. He meets a woman there, where talk is minimal, as neither understands much of the language of the other. He has spent his week on leave with her, and every day she has told him I want to see you in the morning when you wake.

There is much about war, the terrifying moments of war, which he can’t bring himself to share with her, to tell her the way it feels when the ground shakes from man’s destruction, the memories of what he’s seen that stay fixed in his mind, the ever present concern if he will live to see another day, another moment.

And then the war is over, and he returns to the country of his birth, but an impetuous decision has him head to New Orleans rather than to his home, his parents home. War has changed him, and he isn’t quite ready for a return to that “normal” the hell he has been through and the nightmarish things he’s seen have forever changed him.

Eventually he will leave New Orleans, as there he finds another variation of a kind of hell, and eventually ends up as Gatsby’s neighbor. His journey has left him still somewhat shattered by his life’s experiences, a bruise that never seems to fade. MFS’s portrayal of Nick seems, to me, to be so close to how Fitzgerald must have imagined him, a man who seems wary of life and everything Gatsby represents.

A spectacularly imaginative portrayal of Nick, his story, in the turbulent years of WWI, and his days before ultimately meeting Gatsby.

Published: 05 Jan 2021

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Little, Brown and Company via NetGalley

#Nick #NetGalley
Profile Image for Jill Mackin.
357 reviews161 followers
April 13, 2021
The character in Smith's book isn't anywhere near the "Nick" in the Great Gatsby.
Only finished to see if Gatsby made an appearance in the last pages. Some of the Great War battle scenes were difficult to read.
Profile Image for Rabbit Queen.
234 reviews39 followers
Shelved as 'considering'
July 15, 2020
Here I going being super pretentious:
I teach Gatsby. I’ve taught Gatsby. Although the novel is short, it’s hella complex. There’s a reason why it’s taught to AP students - excellent for analysis.

Nick is a complicated character that serves a purpose, he give us insight to both parties albeit being somewhat unreliable.
I’m not sure how I personally feel about a “prequel” to Gatsby. I’m interested but I REALLY don’t think it will serve any purpose??? Gatsby is Fitzgerald’s commentary on the American Dream (amongst other things). This seems like an unnecessary background story :/
Profile Image for Laura.
828 reviews257 followers
February 26, 2021
You may go into this book having no idea that the cover art is a play off of The Great Gatsby cover, the eyes, "that" color of blue. You may not even know that Nick is the narrator of The Great Gatsby. And you know what, if you do not know any of these things it's okay. You don't even need to have read or heard of The Great Gatsby. However, this is the Nick from The Great Gatsby before meeting Gatsby.

Author, Michael Farris Smith, admits he knew very little about Nick. "I realized I only knew three things about him. He fought in the Great War, he was from the Midwest, and he was turning 30." I share all of this to say you don't have to read or reread The Great Gatsby to enjoy, understand or love the book, Nick. My main reason that I read the book is because I love the writings of author, MFS. His novella, The Hands of Strangers, was set in Europe and to this day I think has one of the more haunting scenes from literature that I have encountered. Nick takes us back to Europe, a place MFS is familiar with and then takes us to the South, also a place and people Smith is familiar with.

This book is heavy, you can feel pretty weighted down with the emotions of Nick and the other characters he comes in contact with. However, in true MFS fashion there is the theme of hope and redemption. I suggest read this book and go in with no expectations and put the idea of Gatsby on the back burner and take in the character of Nick.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,980 reviews1,990 followers
April 3, 2021
Real Rating: 3.5* of five, rounded down because BLEAK

Great spaces of solitude in the same house that was sometimes filled with the smiling faces of friends and family but during this blackness the house seemed to grow and the space seemed to stretch in height and spread in width and Nick was left to wonder where the voices had gone.

Sums up my overall impression of the read. Deeply bleak, in an existential way, as we somehow always knew Nick Carraway's life would be. Much of the suffering appears gratuitous, self-inflicted; I came to believe that was the author's intent.

Profile Image for Andy Helms.
27 reviews
January 25, 2021
The Great Gatsby is—without a doubt—my favorite book, and I re-read it at least once per year. In fact, it was the first book I (re-)read in 2021. Additionally, I've always related to the character of Nick Carraway and, despite his flaws, I see myself in Nick. It seems to me that Fitzgerald intentionally kept Nick Carraway somewhat vague and, frankly, that's probably why it's so easy for me to relate to Nick. Given all of this, I was fairly nervous to read Nick. Would Nick take away from my love of Gatsby and ruin my next re-read? On the flip side, could I really turn down a prequel to my favorite novel?

Ultimately, Nick was a disappointment. However, I don't think it will impact my relationship with Gatsby. That's because Nick doesn't feel all that connected to Gatsby, so much so that it's hard to associate the two together. As a stand-alone novel completely unassociated with Gatsby, Nick is a very okay book—not really good, not really bad. As a prequel to Gatsby, Nick fails.

To be fair, Smith does succeed in connecting his novel to Fitzgerald's in a few ways. The most notable, to me, was the way that Nick Carraway finds himself in the center of other people's drama in Nick, much like he will in Gatsby. Nick gets himself so intwined in the personal dealings of the other characters that it seems though he is an active participant; but, after you take a step back, you realize that he is mostly a passive observer—again, just as he will behave in Gatsby. Additionally, Smith's writing style in Nick is similar to Fitzgerald's in Gatsby—there is the same sort of intense sorrow, with a small sprinkle of hope, that feels essential to the sound of any "great American novel."

Where Smith falls short is the incompatibility between Nick Carraway in Nick and Nick Carraway in Gatsby. I found myself trying to square the character I was reading against the character I know, and I couldn't. Throughout Nick, the character experiences trauma—deep, impactful trauma. We see the impact of that trauma on Nick, particularly as the novel progresses. The way it seems to change Nick's Nick isn't compatible with Gatsby's Nick, who exists only a few years later. I can't take Nick from the pages of Smith's novel to the pages of Fitzgerald's, mostly because I don't believe that the perspective Nick brings in Gatsby would make sense after everything he went through and his final disposition in Nick. The two are so incongruent that it seems impossible for this to be a valid prequel to the masterpiece that is Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
Profile Image for Whispering Stories.
2,758 reviews2,581 followers
February 24, 2021
Book Reviewed on www.whisperingstories.com

I need to begin this review with a confession. I haven’t fully read The Great Gatsby, just a few chapters many years ago. Yes, I have seen the movie with Leonardo Di Caprio, and one of my children was reading the book for their English class so we had the study guide which I read at the time to help them with their essay, so I do know about the plot and the narrator Nick Carraway, who was my favourite character so I jumped at the chance to learn more about him from author Michael Farris Smith’s imagination.

We first meet Nick when he is just leaving Paris to return to the battlefields during WWI. Just like the real war, the author doesn’t shy away from the horrors and the bloody scenes of war. The wording leaves you in no uncertain terms of how devastatingly bad the war was for both the men fighting and the people caught up in it.

As well as his time fighting the book also focuses on Nick’s love for his French lover, Ella, and via flashbacks, we get to hear about their relationship. We also see his relationship with his family, including his mother’s depression and his father who wanted him to take over the family business, not head off to New York to sell bonds.

The book ends where The Great Gatsby begins with Nick seeing Jay Gatsby on the end of the pier looking out across the water. This was a nice touch to the original book which you can tell is loved by the author.

The book is quite wordy and reads like a classic book. I had to read it quite slowly to take everything in because it was quite tough at times with some of the scenes. It was, however, fascinating to hear how the author believed that Nick’s life was before he lived in the cottage next to Jay Gatsby’s mansion in West Egg. It is heart-breaking and poignant and takes the reader on a journey of Nick’s self-discovery as well as his harsh past, having to deal with so many things that could drive anyone to breaking point and leave a person scarred for life, both physically and mentally.

This is a book that any loyal The Great Gatsby fans should read. It might not have been written by the original author F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it is a story that I feel compliments the original and may even make you appreciate it a little more with a backstory to Nick Carraway’s life.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,983 reviews2 followers
October 18, 2020
Often felt lost and I kept thinking, "What's the point?" I'm still not sure I can answer that question.

Thank you to Hachette for providing me with an ARC of Nick prior to their annual Book Club Brunch.
Profile Image for Jeremy Liang.
109 reviews3 followers
February 6, 2021
Look, I really take no pleasure in writing negative reviews -- The Great Gatsby is in my pantheon of books, and I had every intention of loving Nick -- but what Smith did with Nick Carraway just wasn't at all for me.

I don't doubt Smith's skill as a writer, but I have no idea why this archetypal wanderer character of the lost generation had to be Nick. Truly, besides some plot pieces and the occasional allusion, this Nick has nothing in common with Gatsby's, with Nick's cold, monotone third-person being incongruous with the vibrant first-person of TGG. Luckily, the Nick Carraway we know doesn't feel "ruined" or honestly even remotely "touched" for me since my brain compartmentalized them in different places.

The greater problem though is that this book is just total tedium. If you read the first ten pages of the book, you've read the entire book. Hell, even if you've read the epigraph of the book, you've read the entire book. The Paris and WWI sections are monotonous but interesting enough, but the novel loses all momentum by the New Orleans sections. There's just only so many times you can read about someone getting drunking and walking the streets -- how the editor of this book didn't cut these 150 pages down, I have no idea. And honestly, the way Smith reduced New Orleans to a generic saloon town was highly unimaginative and insulting to the city†.

The final image of the book, after settling into his cottage and watching a pulsing green light across the Long Island Sound, sees Nick watching the sunrise. Maybe the most frustrating part of all of this is reading the last few pages of the book, because they are excellent. With his heart beating fast and his arms stretched far, he lives the legendary "one fine morning" that readers have had gyred into their heads for decades. Smith's prose in these last paragraphs is gorgeous: lovingly reverential to Fitzgerald's novel without being imitative. Why couldn't we get that novel instead of this wack-ass Cormac McCarthy pastiche.

So we beat on, I suppose.

†Read Bob Dylan's NOLA sections in Chronicles and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,832 reviews428 followers
July 31, 2023
My expectations were too high; many others liked this one. I found it rather boorish and hard to read. However, I DO feel it could have been done better in audio format. The physical book and how Michael Farris Smith tried to write in the same prose of the time period was a failure for me as a reader. There were so many starts and stop thoughts that never went anywhere, and the pace was painfully slow too much of the time. YOU DIDN'T EVEN NOTICE when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in this prose because the words flowed off the page. Here it just was painful.

Nick is my favorite character in Fitzgerald's Gatsby, and I was heartbroken that Michael Farris Smith didn't seem to capture his essence. It was just like reading another character of a related time for me. If you are NOT hugely into all things Gatsby, you can probably find this more forgiving than I could. Nick Carroway has always stood out in my mind, so I had many hopes for him and was not a fan of how this one played out. I couldn't see how the Nick in this novel ever became the Nick of Fitzgerald's.

The best part of this novel was the historical aspect, and I feel like I could like other historical novels by Smith that were NOT retellings. He excelled in this area.

2 stars for me. It was ok but fell FAR from my hopes for both Nick and a novel in general.
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