On January 1, 2021, The Great Gatsby will become the latest masterwork of 20th century literature to enter the public domain, and because time and tide wait for no man, just a few days later, on January 5, we’ll all be borne back ceaselessly into the past together with the release of… a prequel.
Yes, some men might be daunted by the prospect, the near-certainty, of every single book critic on God’s green earth comparing their book unfavorably to its hallowed predecessor—perhaps the most famous American novel ever written—but not Michael Farris Smith.
The author of novels including Blackwood, The Fighter and Desperation Road has always been taken with the character of Nick Carraway; so much so, in fact, that he has written an entire origin story for Gatsby‘s moral Midwestern narrator, entitled Nick.
As reported in the Guardian earlier today:
No Exit [Farris Smith’s UK publisher] promised that Nick would be “charged with enough alcohol, heartbreak and profound yearning to transfix even the heartiest of golden-age scribes”. The prequel will see the character “floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed first hand” during the trench warfare of the first world war and embarking “on a 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 flavour of debauchery and violence”.
No Exit’s editor-in-chief, Geoffrey Mulligan, said that Farris Smith’s story was exceptional. “The trenches and the bomb craters are utterly vivid, the silence of the tunnels deafening. And the ending—the clever ending that brought Nick’s story to a close while opening up the world of West Egg—is perfect,” he said.
It’s a brave and/or foolish author who takes on a project like this, and though the odds are stacked against him (as they were against both Nick and Jay, once upon a time…), pulling off a successful prequel to a dead titan’s beloved canonical tome is not unheard of. Jon Clinch did it with Finn in 2007, Gregory Maguire did it with Wicked in 1995, and, of course, Jean Rhys did it with Wide Sargasso Sea way back in 1966.
I say good luck to you, Michael.