Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

Friday, March 28, 2014
Title: Great
Author: Sara Benincasa
Genre: general fiction, retellings, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Published: expected April 8 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

In Sara Benincasa's contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, a teenage girl becomes entangled in the drama of a Hamptons social circle, only to be implicated in a tragedy that shakes the summer community.

Everyone loves a good scandal.

Naomi Rye usually dreads spending the summer with her socialite mother in East Hampton. This year is no different. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the teenagers who have been summering (a verb only the very rich use) together for years. But Naomi finds herself captivated by her mysterious next-door neighbor, Jacinta. Jacinta has her own reason for drawing close to Naomi-to meet the beautiful and untouchable Delilah Fairweather. But Jacinta's carefully constructed world is hiding something huge, a secret that could undo everything. And Naomi must decide how far she is willing to be pulled into this web of lies and deception before she is unable to escape.

Based on a beloved classic and steeped in Sara Benincasa's darkly comic voice, Great has all the drama, glitz, and romance with a terrific modern (and scandalous) twist to enthrall readers.

If you're a fan of The Great Gatsby I think there's a lot to be found in Sara Benincasa's loose retelling of the well-loved classic that you'd enjoy. If you're not a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald's tale of privilege and money in America's jazz era, there's still a strong chance Benincasa's debut set in the modern day will surprise you and entertain you as this story's Nick narrator Naomi navigates a world of power and privilege in the Hamptons.

If you're like me and indifferent, Great is enjoyable for both its homages and its divergences from the original source material. It's a story with a less than perfect narrator, who for that reason and several others, felt real to me. Naomi gets caught up in many things beyond her understanding and her maturity level -- the social circle her mother encourages her to see, the "secret" -- and her struggles are. She does fall prey to some actions and choices in vocabulary that are less than well-informed (the slut-shaming in particular) but her imperfections were moderate and realistic for an isolate and somewhat spoiled teenage girl.

The writing was serviceable and nondescript. I can't say that I was overly impressed by the prose displayed, but it was strong, and the story was constructed well for the first three-fourths of the novel. After the "scandalous" twist promised in the blurb, Great felt very rushed. It was 230 pages of set up and foundation about who these characters were (which is fine one one hand because it was interesting but otherwise less enthusing) but then only about 35 pages of headlong fallout and bringing everything together for the end. The increased pace lessened the impact the author was trying to achieve with the twist by short-cutting any time to see the characters really recover from the climactic events.

This was a success for me, surprisingly. I think it works equally well as an original piece of fiction and as a retelling of The Great Gatsby, which was far beyond what I had expected. The gender switching and updating of the setting works well for Naomi and Benincasa's style and add another fresh layer to the retelling of an old classic. Especially for a debut fiction novel, Benincasa had a huge task with retelling such a familiar story in her own way, but Great more than bears the weight of that inherent hype.

1 comment:

  1. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Great. I've read The Great Gatsby several times, but the story never stayed with me. I watched the Leo movie version a few days after finishing Great, so I was able to see the parallels in the story (even if I don't know how accurate the movie was to the source material) and thought that both of the updated versions were a lot of fun.


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