Book Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

great

Recommended by a Goodreads reviewer.

In this contemporary genderbent retelling of “The Great Gatsby”, Nick Carraway Naomi Rye is the daughter of a middle class PE teacher and a self-made billionaire socialite. She is forced to spend every summer in the Hamptons with her mother and rich people whom she hates, and this summer is no different. However, she finds herself drawn to her beautiful and mysterious next-door neighbour  Jay Gatsby Jacinta Tremalchio, who turns out to be none other than the world’s biggest fashion blogger. Naomi’s friend Daisy Buchanan Delilah Fairweather, daughter of a senator, is a fragile girl in an abusive relationship with Tom Buchanan Teddy, a former child star, who is sleeping with a waitress called Myrtle  Misti. When Naomi brings Delilah to meet Jacinta, something inexplicable sparks between the two girls and Naomi feels more and more like an outsider looking in. How much would it take for the green light on Jacinta’s house to fade and will the story end just like the Great American Novel?

 

I’ve known of the comedian Sara Benincasa for years now – I even used to follow her on Formspring (does anyone remember Formspring?). And she is a very funny comedian, but unfortunately a good retelling of “The Great Gatsby” is a very hard feat to accomplish. I loved that she added a lesbian twist to the story, and I’m not saying that the writing is bad. However, even though I dislike “The Great Gatsby” to say the least, I disliked “Great” even more.

When Fitzgerald wrote about rich people’s problems, it worked well because of the time period and the American culture of that time. However, when one attempts to rewrite “Gatsby” in a modern setting, it just doesn’t work the same way. It is possible that it could’ve worked if the author didn’t merely change the genders, the names and the occupations of the characters and didn’t leave the rest almiost as it was. However, this is exactly what has transpired in “Great” and it didn’t make it… well, great.

My biggest issue was the characters. I’m not a rich person and I’ve never been, so I don’t really know if “Gossip Girl” and the like depicts the lives of the rich realistically – but if not, it’s at least a fun strategy of escapism. “Great” features crying over Hermes bags, arguing over lobster rolls (I’m really not rich – I didn’t even know that was a thing), and people “summering” in The Hamptons. So this book would’ve worked as an escape mechanism similar to “Gossip Girl”, if it weren’t for Naomi. Even Dan Humphrey was more interesting than our fem!Nick Carraway, who is possibly the worst, most boring character in this novel. She’s supposed to be this smart, straight-A student who was planning to use her summer to study, yet she never gets around to it and the way she acts is the opposite of smart. I get that 17 is an age when you are just starting out in life, but Naomi acted like a 12-year-old most of the time. “Gatsby”‘s characters, while being incredibly annoying and awful people, at least had some depth – despite my dislike of his work, I know that Fitzgerald was a talented writer. “Great”‘s characters, however, were just caricatures of rich and middle-class people. Naomi selfishly HATES her mother, a self-made billionaire who made her fortune from cooking (think Martha Stewart), hates other girls who are “busy summering” with her at the Hamptons for no reason other than they are rich, and yet she insists on calling herself a feminist – after all, she is in her school’s LGBTstraight alliance (more on sexual orientation as a plot device later) and has a “cool” lesbian best friend! Her relationship with Jordan Baker Jeff is just as dull and superficial as the one in the original book. To be honest, other characters aren’t particularly fantastic either. Jay Gatsby was a romantic, and a hopeless one, which worked for the time period, but Jacinta Trimalchio’s facepalm-worthy romantic plans for her future with Delilah are just RIDICULOUS.

Oh, and “Great” is published as a genderbent retelling of “The Great Gatsby” with a lesbian twist. I’m not a lesbian, and I might be completely wrong, but the “twist” added nothing other than being a plot device for Naomi’s “feminist” leanings and I can’t even tell what else. Naomi’s best friend is a self-proclaimed butch lesbian and I personally thought that her character was a very offensive caricature. We all know that Nick Carraway was in love, or obsessed with Jay Gatsby, and to the author’s credit, she didn’t skim over that aspect of the original book – Naomi never says it out loud, but it’s pretty clear how she feels about Jacinta from the start of the book.

My rating – 5.5/10. Read it if you want some escapism and can bear overly annoying characters.

 

Favourite quotes

“Remember that you can’t be one person one place and a totally different person in another place. Right is right and wrong is wrong, no matter where you are.”

“Something was developing between them that went beyond friendship. It was like they got high off each other, and every mutual encounter was another chance to feel some sort of pelasure that was very specific to their union”

 

Recommendations

Stick with Fitzgerald. Or watch Gossip Girl

 

Have you read “Great”? Are you fans of “The Great Gatsby”? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know!

 

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

  1. You hurry mgr when you said you didn’t love The Great Gatsby but in truth I read it a long time ago and have been afraid to revisit it.

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