In Jillian Cantor’s latest novel, Beautiful Little Fools we return to the Jazz Age and the world first created by literary great, F. Scott Fitzgerald. While the original novel pointed to George Wilson as the culprit in Jay Gatsby’s death, Cantor’s novel tells the story from the perspective of the three women in his life, Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and Catherine McCoy.
The story starts on the eve of Gatsby’s death where we are given a glimpse at who might have killed him before we journey back several years to when Daisy wasn’t a Buchanan yet, Jordan was a rising golf pro and Catherine had just moved to New York City and reconnected with her sister Myrtle who is struggling in an unhappy marriage and dreams of meeting a rich man who can rescue her.
Cantor recreates the world so perfectly, that I have to think that Fitzgerald would appreciate her reveal on just who killed Jay Gatsby and as someone who enjoyed the novel when it was required reading in school and has watched every feature film based on the book from 1974 movie starring Mia Farrow and Robert Redford to Baz Luhrmann’s colorful re-imagining of the classic tale starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire I thoroughly enjoyed the novel.
In today’s interview, Jillian shares about when she first read The Great Gatsby, why she thinks the interest in the Roaring Twenties continues to this day, and what inspired her to write the novel.
When did you first read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby?
I read it for the first time in high school, for an English class. It was the first classic I was assigned to read that I truly loved. I read it again in a college class. And then I kept my college copy, moved it across the country with me, and still have it sitting on my desk. I pick it up to reread again every year or two.
Why do you think that there continues to be so much interest in the Roaring Twenties/Jazz Age in the present day?
It was such a fascinating time in our history, all this glamour, and revelry that followed both WWI and the 1918-19 flu pandemic. In a lot of ways, I think it’s such a visual representation of hope and celebration after living through such hard times. This feels especially relevant and necessary in the time we’re living in now, too.
What was one of the most interesting finds that you made during your research process?
Most of my research was reading and rereading The Great Gatsby, and in the original novel, Tom buys Myrtle a dog. But there’s no explanation for where the dog lives or who takes care of it. It seems to just exist in their secret apartment in the city…all alone. The dog, of course, made it into Beautiful Little Fools, with an explanation.
When were you first inspired to write Beautiful Little Fools and answer the question, “Who really killed Gatsby?”
I’ve always wanted to know more about the women in The Great Gatsby. They’re such a huge part of the plot, and yet they barely speak, and we definitely don’t get much insight into their thoughts or feelings. It’s an idea that’s always been in the back of my mind, but once the original novel entered the public domain, I knew it was the perfect time to really dive into it.
Out of the three women’s storylines (Daisy, Jordan, and Catherine) which storyline did you enjoy writing the most?
I loved writing them all, but Jordan was my favorite. She’s always been my favorite character in the original as well. She’s just so strong and so tough, but also just beneath the surface, she’s really vulnerable too. And she was so much fun to write.
Do you have a scene that was your favorite to write?
The last chapter of the novel was not in my original first draft. My editor pointed out when she read the book that it needed a final chapter to end, and I quickly realized she was right. Once I figured out what that final chapter should be, I felt like that last scene was so satisfying and final to get down on the page.
If you could have met F. Scott Fitzgerald in real life, what would you have asked him?
I would be curious to know how he envisioned the backstories for Daisy, Jordan, Catherine, and Myrtle. As a writer, I always know a lot more about my characters than what ends up making it into the book, and I suspect that he did too.
Are you currently working on your next novel, and if so can we get a sneak peek?
Yes, I am, but I can’t say too much about it yet other than to say it’s another feminist look at a different classic.