Retelling the story of the Great Gatsby from the point of view of a queer, Vietnamese Jordan Baker, this atmospheric novel catapults the story into a shadowy, magical Jazz Age New York.
Nghi Vo is such a beautiful writer and this book is just as lovely and lyrical as her novellas. The book follows Jordan Baker, one of Daisy’s best friends from childhood and a somewhat jaded woman who was adopted into the wealthy Baker family as a young child. We see glimpses of their past together in Louisville while closely following the storyline of The Great Gatsby.
The setting for this novel is a New York that is teeming with magic and darkness. Magicians exist, prohibition bans demon’s blood as well as alcohol, and Jordan herself possesses magic. Jordan is able make cut paper come alive, first with a lion when she is very young, and then with a body double of Daisy on the eve of Daisy’s wedding to Tom. This magic is really fascinating, but not deeply explored. The setting is incredibly compelling, but I felt there was a real lack of world building. I would love to know more about the magical side of the world and see it have a larger impact in the story beyond the characters drinking demoniac. The focus for this novel is definitely on characters and plot, so the setting did not get as much attention as I’d have liked.
I personally don’t love the original story, so while I like this twist on it, I did find myself getting frustrated that Vo was constrained within this pre-existing story. We knew what was coming with the plot, even as she added some compelling twists, and that took me out of the story a bit. My favorite change from the original story, though, is the characters. Jordan, Gastby, and Nick are all queer and explore their sexuality with a variety of people. Since reading this book, I’ve read quite a few articles posing the theory that Nick is a queer character in the original story, and I am completely convinced. It was nice to see how that played out in this book.
Likewise, I appreciated seeing Jordan struggling with overt and covert racism in her world. Growing up in Louisville and then continuing with the same groups in New York, she is often treated as a curiosity. She never wants to explore her race, until she meets a traveling group of Asian performers who possess the same magic that she does. I loved seeing her question her world in the end and finding a way to remove herself from the stifling world she’d been stuck in since her adoption.
This is a leisurely paced story, but I really enjoyed the slower pacing in this instance. Vo’s prose are so beautiful and the images she crafts are so poignant; it is nice to live in them for a while. Descriptions of parties and clubs were fascinating and beautifully rendered, as were the characters themselves. So, while I am not the biggest Gatsby fan, I truly enjoyed this unique, haunting retelling.
Have you read The Chosen and the Beautiful yet? Tell me what you thought!