NICK by Michael Farris Smith reviewed

NICK Book Cover NICK
Michael Farris Smith
Oldcastle Books
February 25, 2021

Critically acclaimed novelist Michael Farris Smith pulls Nick Carraway out of the shadows and into the spotlight in this fascinating look into his life before Gatsby.

Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby's periphery, he was at the center of a very different story-one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I.

Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed firsthand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental 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 flavor of debauchery and violence.

An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know but few have pondered deeply. Charged with enough alcohol, heartbreak, and profound yearning to paralyze even the heartiest of golden age scribes, Nick reveals the man behind the narrator who has captivated readers for decades.

NICK by Michael Farris Smith

This is Nick’s story before he knew Gatsby (as in the Great Gatsby). It starts in Paris during WW1 with Nick on leave from the front line trenches. He has met a girl there but his leave ends and he reluctantly returns to war. The writing is vividly evocative and when Nick volunteers for “tunnelling” the sense of claustrophobia is very real. The story follows Nick back to the USA after the war. His mental scarring is almost painful at times and he decides not to return to his family but to go to New Orleans instead. Most of the remainder of the book focusses on his time there. Prohibition is coming and he meets some colourful characters. Alcohol and drugs figure along with a dark sense of despair at times.

Nick’s time in the war and in Paris really grabbed me. The experiences on the front line in the trenches and tunnels were vivid. During the lulls he reflects on times past and the quality of the writing was clear. The underlying theme throughout this book is what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This story is both haunted and haunting particularly in New Orleans.

The writing here is wonderfully vivid. I’ve not read the Great Gatsby however I’m not sure that it is necessary to read that book before Nick. I have really enjoyed other books by this author. However, for me, this was unremitting bleak at times particularly in New Orleans. I found Nick very good as a character and perfectly believable. The other main characters were also very real to me and well crafted. Ultimately I cannot claim to have enjoyed this book I think. The writing is wonderful and parts I really enjoyed but parts of it are so bleak. I do plan to read more from this author and I am sure many fans will enjoy this. I would suggest new readers start elsewhere though.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review