Books: “Nick” by Michael Harris Smith
Standing quietly on the sidelines of the world inhabited by Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby was Daisy’s cousin Nick Carroway—a solid Midwestern type who came to the North Shore of Long Island to seek fame and fortune in 1920’s New York.
But what do we really know about Nick’s life before F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel? Michael Farris Smith makes a compelling case for why we should care in “Nick,” his simple, dreamily written new prequel to TGG.
A Minnesotan who drops out of Yale to join the Army in 1917 (Fitzgerald did the same thing, instead dropping out from Princeton), young Nick is sent to the front lines in France, slogs through the muck and mire of the trenches, digs tunnels into enemy lines, gets captured by the Germans, escapes, and falls in love with a prostitute named Ella while on leave in Paris. Besotted with her, he returns after the war ends but can’t find her.
His obsession with Ella leads him back to America and New Orleans which she mentioned she once visited. There he gets mixed up with an assortment of down-and-out characters that prove to be the polar opposite of the West Egg and East Egg set. But he comes across as an observer, rather than a participant, in the scene, prefiguring his role in “Gatsby.”
Smith’s style is more Hemingway-esque than Fitzgerald, and such simplicity is better suited to the complex and somewhat violent twists and turns the novel takes. Eventually, life leads Nick back to Minnesota briefly then on to Long Island where this happens one quiet morning:
“The shifting light of night to day and the mist from the water played with his eyes but he thought he saw a figure at the end of the pier. A silhouette waiting for dawn. But even in silhouette Nick thought the figure seemed to hold some magical stature, as if a fairytale were being whispered into his ear and his mind creating the vision for it. A gaggle of ducks landed in the water and caught Nick’s attention and when he looked back to the pier the figure had vanished.”
Gee. Wonder who that could be.