Novel Approach: Gatsby gets a fever dream makeover in ‘The Chosen and the Beautiful’

“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald

What makes a novel a classic? Is it the fame of the writer or the relatability of the story? Authors often like to revisit classic novels and create stories for minor characters or give the old tale a modern twist. Our latest read takes us back to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic Jazz Age novel, “The Great Gatsby.”

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Readers who love the glitz of “The Great Gatsby” might enjoy Nghi Vo’s debut novel “The Chosen and the Beautiful,” which revisits the captivating world of Gatsby.

Vo’s novel revolves around Jordan Baker, who was raised and lives among the wealthy set during the Jazz Age, despite not quite fitting in with the rest of the group. Vo injects an air of fantasy into Fitzgerald’s classic, as Jordan moves through a world that doesn’t quite accept her due to her Vietnamese heritage and queer identity. As she spends her summer drinking with Daisy and flirting with Nick, Jordan tries to avoid the cloying and all-too-powerful nature of Jay Gatsby.

At the same time, Jordan finds that she has a strange skill that allows her to bring paper figures to life. That puzzles her until she meets someone else who can do the same thing, which forces her to reflect on her early childhood.

Vo’s spin on the classic Jazz Age tale offers a new glimpse into Gatsby’s character and adds dimension to Nick, the original tale’s narrator.

Through Vo’s novel, readers can return to the world of Gatsby through the fever-dream veil of the fantasy that Vo has woven through the classic tale. What makes “The Chosen and the Beautiful” so fascinating is how Vo expertly weaves in the fantasy elements in such a delicate manner that it feels like a natural part of the story. The protagonist’s casual observations of magic and passing references to demons feel at home in the raging party scene of the 1920s.

From the book jacket…

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

If you enjoy…

For readers looking for more twists on classic stories, consider reading Rachel Hawkin’s modern take on “Jane Eyre” in “The Wife Upstairs.” For those who love Jane Austen, Molly Greeley often writes about minor characters from “Pride and Prejudice” in her books like “The Heiress.”