Surprise: Watts’s novel is unfairly freighted with this allusion to its distant, white ancestor. If you know Fitzgerald’s story intimately, it might be interesting, in some minor, academic way, to trace the lines of influence on her work, but in general that’s a distraction. Watts has written a sonorous, complex novel that’s entirely her own ... [the] plural narrator, knowing and wry, is just one of the novel’s rich pleasures. Without yoking herself to some cumbersome Greek chorus, Watts has invented a communal voice that’s infinitely flexible, capable of surveying the whole depressed town or lingering tenderly in a grieving mother’s mind ... Little happens in this novel in any traditional sense, but it seems constantly in motion because Watts is so captivating a writer ... All of this is conveyed in a prose style that renders the common language of casual speech into natural poetry, blending intimate conversation with the rhythms of gossip, town legend, even song lyrics ... What Watts has done here is more captivating than another retread about the persistence of a crook’s dream. She’s created an indelible story about the substance of a woman’s life.
Watts writes about ordinary people leading ordinary lives with an extraordinary level of empathy and attention. 'One of the tricks of time,' an older character realizes, 'is that your own ordinary life took on a sweetness in the retelling' ... The Great Gatsby is, at its core, a book about wanting things. Watts is interested in what black people are allowed to want — and allow themselves to want — in 21st-century America, and what it takes to venture a real claim for a place, a home ... The ways in which No One Is Coming to Save Us intersects with and veers away from Fitzgerald’s familiar plot can be very rewarding. (In one small but perfect joke, Gatsby’s dock becomes J J’s deck.) Every departure can be seen as a sly comment on what it means to be a person of color in today’s America ... When Gatsby didn’t get what he wanted, the story could only end with his death, but Watts’s characters are people who have seen generations of dreams stymied and thwarted — for their kin, their community and themselves. Rather than giving up if the game doesn’t go their way, they do what they’ve always done: Forget the rules, shake up the players and turn Gatsby’s green dock light gold.
Watts picks and chooses which elements of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story to keep (car accident, yes; wild parties, no). The looseness frees her to build a narrative that stands on its own terms ... Like Fitzgerald, Watts excels at physical descriptions that give texture to the world of the novel ... Though disjointed in places, the novel conjures the 'Is that all there is?' mood of Gatsby to great effect. To call Watts 'promising' would diminish her significant accomplishments, which include a Whiting Award and a Pushcart Prize for her short fiction. In the best possible way, this is the kind of book that makes a reader yearn for her next one.