“Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix” (2022 Feiwel and Friends) by Anna-Marie McLemore is part of a series of classic remixes. Reading a “remix” helps you remember the original and compare it to the original.
Both F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel and McLemore’s are set in the roaring twenties in East Egg and West Egg, fictional Long Island towns. Both books deal with the upper class and disparities of social class and there is a counterpart for each major character of the original. But Nicolás Caraveo is the narrator stand in for Nick Carraway and Daisy stands in for Daisy Buchanan, and she is Tom Buchanan’s girlfriend, not wife. This Daisy is actually Daisy Caraveo, Nic’s cousin, but she is passing from a Latina girl to a white girl and chooses to be called Daisy Fay. She is seemingly as vapid as the original.
No one is quite as they seem. Both Nic and Jay Gatsby are transgender boys (as is the author) who wear “side-lacers” to flatten their breasts. This is not much of a spoiler—at least we discover this early on or if we read the cover material. This Jordan Baker is a wealthy socialite but also a golf star. The relationships among the characters are similar to the original but the outcome of relationships is quite different. And the story is not the tragedy of Fitzgerald’s book. That’s usually true of YA books and to me that’s a perk in these days of stress and uncertainty.
It would seem fitting that the roaring twenties be written in dazzling prose and at times that’s how I felt about McLemore’s writing. Such as, “I would have sworn to a priest that Gatsby’s smile pulled light in through the windows.” But the constant florid images verge on purple prose, for this reader, especially since she describes Nic, the narrator, as an empirical man. But it’s Daisy who says, “’Don’t you love me anymore, Tom?’ she asked in a voice as airy as her green chiffon.” Lines like that and too many others like them are too much for this reader.
Still it was fun to follow the newly minted plot that revolves around “lavender marriage,” which was a new concept to me. Each of two lesbians marry each of two gay men. In the twenties it was imperative to look upstanding. Afterall, homosexuality was, unfortunately, illegal. So you could have two upstanding-looking couples and then go home to your true lover. It makes you realize how horrifying it was not to be able to be oneself in the world. I’m grateful we’ve made some progress. Knowing how much work it is to maintain a marriage of two, think about the ramifications and complications of a foursome like this. Anyway, it’s the crux of the happily-ever-after outcome of “Self-Made Boys.” Wonderful title, considering the theme of the original revolves around self-made men.
Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning books: Lift As You Climb; Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue all signed and for sale at Jane Addams bookstore. Books forthcoming about women’s suffrage, Martha Graham, and Ella Fitzgerald. talesforallages.com