Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor
Published by Harper Perennial
Publication date: February 1, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Historical
A sweltering August day, a stunning estate, and a crystalline pool, its pellucid water tinged red by Jay Gatsby’s blood. Shot once and now dead. We all know this is how The Great Gatsby ends but in Jillian Cantor’s Beautiful Little Fools, it’s just the beginning. Although the police have closed the case, Detective Frank Charles has been hired by an old friend of Gatsby’s to find out if a grieving husband was the real killer. For this, he goes to the three women, all of whom knew Gatsby better than they claimed.
Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker are known to readers from the original tale, but the third woman, Catherine McCoy, gets only the smallest mention in that book. She’s Myrtle Wilson’s sister, who lives in NYC. Myrtle is Tom Buchanan’s mistress and she ends up just as dead from a hit and run in Beautiful Little Fools as she did in Gatsby. But the deaths are the only resemblance to the original. Cantor deliciously crafts a magic eye portrait (remember those?) by pulling background figures to the foreground and generating an entirely different picture. Now, it is Daisy, Jordan, and Catherine who individually narrate the novel, each from their perspective. And the story they tell to the detective doesn’t quite add up, but he can’t relax his eye or his mind enough to see the big picture.
Cantor fleshes out the women’s lives, pumping blood into what were paper dolls in Gatsby. Not that she turns them into heroines. She just brings them alive, with their own secrets and sorrows, and each with a very real connection to Jay Gatsby. In doing so, she illustrates the issues of control and power for women in the 1920s. They’re something Daisy, Jordan, and Catherine all want, but while they may appear to be living with some semblance of one or the other, it’s clear it’s an illusion being granted to them by the men around them.
Sometimes, I felt like a prop in my own life.
At the end of last year, I read The Chosen and the Beautiful, a fantastical re-interpretation of The Great Gatsby so was curious to see where another author would take this classic tale. Cantor did not disappoint with a uniquely twisted, fast-paced version of what happened that long ago summer. I didn’t always care for the writing, but Cantor’s imagination made me feel as if Beautiful Little Fools would be a wonderful teaching tool alongside The Great Gatsby, if only to illustrate how each writer’s perspective can completely change the same novel. This is a marvelous reincarnation of a traditional tale of love and longing, but told through the eyes of its women.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Harper Perennial in exchange for an honest review.*