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Willaful Review: Z by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I started Z because I’d really enjoyed Baratz-Logsted’s previous novel The Bro-Magnet, and because the cover and title were intriguing; I didn’t pay much attention to the blurb.  Consequently, it took me 50 pages to catch on:

“Don’t forget what I said, Nix,” she said.

“About… ?”

“About Tim and Dahlia. They’re careless people. Like me.”

That was my first clue — though looking back, I was very struck by the reference to an eye doctor’s office, with a logo of “two giant contact lenses, shimmering opalescent on the glass, but with no eyes behind them, like an eerie Mr. Magoo without the hornrims.”

Yes, this quirky romantic comedy about Nix Carter, returned to a smallish town near New York, and her cousin Dahlia, and Dahlia’s wealthy husband Tim, is, of all things, a rewrite of The Great Gatsby.   With one major difference: the man who fascinates Nix is a mysterious, mystically out-of-time, Spanish — maybe — sword fighter who washes windows and fights injustice.

Recasting Gatsby as Zorro is more logical than it seems at first: the qualities that made the original character exotic and fantastical would seem pretty tame in a modern setting. Like Gatsby, the character of Zorro is unique, perplexing, romantic and “other”; being Hispanic, he’s also still a target for bigotry.  This Zorro doesn’t have much of a personality, though; the recasting is a short-cut to making the character memorable and attractive.

Before the resemblances got obvious, I was finding Z odd and whimsical in a pretty good way; I had no idea where it was going and was curious to find out. But once I recognized the source, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the story. Partly it was because the echoes from The Great Gatsby are so strong — and there are far more of them than I even recognized while first reading it — yet did not fit the tone of the rest of the book.  The ugly, decadent lives of Tom and Daisy Buchanan and their associates do not translate easily into a lighthearted romantic comedy mixed with magical realism; it feels more like an unsuccessful mash-up than a rewrite, like Huckleberry Finn smushed into “American Pie.” The way Z adheres too closely to the original, but then casually discards anything inconvenient so that Nix and Zorro can enjoy their romance, made the book ring false to me.

I was also taken out of the story when it got self conscious.  Nick’s words to Gatsby:

“You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

are rewritten as:

“There has never been anyone else like you in the whole history of the world,” I said, “not even in books. All those people, you’ve got more game in you than the whole damn bunch together.” [italics mine]

Ultimately, I felt Z ‘s primary function was to be a more respectable form of slash fiction — no pun intended. It rewrites the story so that Gatsby and Nick can fall in love.  Gatsby probably could be updated to comment on modern times in an interesting way, but this isn’t that book.

There were some funny and romantic moments, but I still finished this feeling confused, dissatisfied and turned off. Sadly, I can only give Z 2 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to netGalley for providing a review copy.  Z is not currently available in print format; you can buy it for Kindle here.

2 Comments »

  • People like me, who have never great The Great Gatzby (yes, people who grew up in countries were English is not the first language often haven’t read any of the Great American novels), would never have caught the similarities. Hell, we would never have thought to look for similarities to anything else.

    I wish people who write re-imaginings would include a note to that effect, because as much as they think their cultural references are obvious, they often aren’t.

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  • @AztecLady: From the reviews I’ve seen, I don’t think anyone got it. And mighty confused some of them were, too. It doesn’t even make much sense when you know the source.

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