Nick Carraway for anyone that has not read and or the movie is the narrator of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This isn’t a long lost story by the well-known writer however, but a prequel written by an author fascinated with the character.
Michael Farris Smith who is a critically acclaimed novelist in his own right and probably best known for his debut novel, The Hands of Strangers, has been working on this project for some time now. However, until this year he was unable to publish such a work. 2021 saw the end of the copyright on The Great Gatsby, an iconic twentieth century American novel which was first published in 1925.
Like many wonderful classics, The Great Gatsby, has not always been well received by all, but for some it has left its mark. This is what has happened to Michael.
During a recent interview he actually mentions that the first time he picked a copy of The Great Gatsby up he actually couldn’t see why everyone was raving about it. It wasn’t until he picked it up for the 3rd time that it left an impression on him, and perhaps not in the same why it does for others. He was fascinated not with Jay Gatbsy or Daisy Buchanan but with Nick Carraway, a character we know very little about.
In fact, all we actually do know about this young man is that he is originally from Minnesota, was educated at Yale and fought in World War I. Other than that we learn very little about such a pivotal character. For most, this would mean that we soon lose interest in him and focus more on the main characters in the narrative, but the mystery surrounding Nick Carraway is exactly what attracted Michael to him.
When asked: Why did I write the back story for Nick?
“One the second reading, in my late twenties, I began to notice things in Nick Carraway, the story’s narrator, that I found in myself. Uncertainty about where he belonged, but trying to figure it out… A curiosity about the people who surrounded him that often fell into confusion and vagueness… The next time I picked up The Great Gatsby… It was one of the most surreal reading experiences of my life. It seemed as if there was something no every page that spoke to me, that related to my own experiences, that spoke to my own, and still very alive, thirst for the unknown.”
He then goes on to further explain:
“I had lived the expatriate life like Fitzgerald and the other writers of the Lost Generation, all of who had a profound impact on both my writing life and emotional life. I was a writer, filled with an idea that excited me and propelled me, which is the only criteria I have for a project I want to work on.”
So what is Nick’s story?
The Story of Nick
Nick didn’t have an easy upbringing. His mother suffered with depression and often took to her bed leaving just him and his father alone for days and weeks on end while she fought her demons. Being a local businessman, his father would head off to work each day and try to support them throughout her illness while suffering himself – uncertain how to help his ailing wife. As men do, they hide their feelings and therefore the relationship between father and son is not always the most open and Nick only learnt about his father’s own struggles when he overheard him at night talking into the bottom of a whiskey glass.
Throughout this period, Nick seems to slowly withdraw and reflect on ways to escape, unable to see himself taking over the family business and remaining in the same town that he grew up in. To this end, he heads off to Yale University and then volunteers to join the Allied Forces in France during the First World War.
His time on the front line is a very dark period in his life. He goes from fighting in the trenches before volunteering to go down in the tunnels knowing the chances of survival are slim. It is as if he has hit the destruct button and sees death as a way out of a mundane life back home. It probably does not help that while on leave he heads to Paris, meets a girl, falls in love with the girl, returns later for the girl only to be rejected.
After the war has ended, he continues to obsess over his lost love, stalking others in the hope that they will be able to replace her. Even after he returns to America he struggles to let her go and heads to New Orleans in search of her, simply off the back of a conversation they had about a trip there long ago. Of course, she isn’t there but a fellow soldier who is also struggles takes him in and life, while no less bleak, takes on a different focus when Nick becomes his main carer for a period of time.
Ultimately though, nothing that Nick does changes the way he feels or his outlook on life and therefore after a period of time at home fighting the urge once again to run away, he does agree with his father that a move is needed in order to carve out a life of his own. It is here that Nick’s story ends and The Great Gatsby will begin.
My Thoughts on Nick
When I read The Great Gatsby years ago, I remember being in awe of the parties and so it as a light-hearted tale albeit with a couple of intense threads running throughout therefore I naively expected that this novel would leave me with similar feelings. I did not expect to read such a dark narrative, or one that I personally perceive as such.
Perhaps because of the current pandemic, the idea of such a novel with an underlying continuous feeling of depression was the reason for my prolonged reading. Where a book of this length would normally only take be a day or two, the intense feelings I had meant that I had to keep putting this one down until I was mentally able to face it again.
That doesn’t mean it was a bad novel, it simply means that the subject matter was a difficult one.
Nick is lost and wandering, trying to find himself but is psychologically broken and doesn’t know how to deal with his own inner turmoil. Instead of confronting his past and his feelings he embraces the darkness moving through his life. To begin with he was willing to push his own vulnerability as a human, willing to die to blot out his own pain. After the war, still unable to move forward, he falls into the world of sleazy prostitution and drugs in the hope that he will find his place in the world.
Nothing however, works and he has to face the fact that he needs to confront all that he has suffered.
This is a poignant story that covers so many different issues. It is clear that Nick suffers with PTSD and I can only imagine that his state of mind and inability to cope is similar to what many experience on a daily basis. That in itself is quite a dark theme to follow, but then Michael also adds in story lines relating to depression, abortion, the horrific death of others in a war zone as well as the feelings of loneliness and not belonging.
Nick is a haunting story of a man completely lost, bewildered and detached from the living in the world around him. Rather than living for himself, it is as if he is floating above those that are and trying to live through them instead in the hope that his pain and suffering will ease. It is clear that the trauma he has experienced has affected him deeply, causing him to live in a fuzzy haze trying to keep reality at bay.
Michael Farris Smith is clearly a master of his craft, eloquently writing about some very dark subjects with a tone and style similar to that of Fitzgerald. This book is however, not for the faint hearted. It is a heavy read and one that could easily cause the reader some distress. It is a book that will leave all that read it emotionally drawn in some way, regardless of whether the themes touched upon have personally affected you or not and for that reason I am not sure it will be for everyone.
This is a novel that will have a lasting effect on you and will stick with you for weeks after you have read it.
Obviously we will never know whether or not this portrayal of Nick Carraway would have been true to Fitzgerald’s own ideas of the narrator, but thanks to Michael’s desire to propel Nick into the limelight we do now have a back story for someone that very little was known about before.
Have you read Nick? Is it a novel you enjoyed? How do you feel that this back story relates, if at all, to the Nick we meet in The Great Gatsby?
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