Ves­na Goldsworthy
  • Review
By – March 18, 2016

One of the chief plea­sures of Ves­na Goldsworthy’s Gorsky, a delight­ful­ly unabashed retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gats­by, is chart­ing all the trans­po­si­tions. Long Island is now mod­ern-day upper-crust Lon­don. Our nar­ra­tor is Niko­la Kimovic, a self-effac­ing Ser­bian immi­grant with a Ph.d in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture who works in a creaky book­shop in Chelsea. (And just in case you miss the ref­er­ence — he goes by Nick.) There’s a Tom (Sum­mer­scale), a wealthy and charm­ing phi­lan­der­er, and his wife Natalia, Gorskys Daisy (which just so hap­pens to be the name of Tom and Natalia’s daugh­ter). Nick, less in love with than dumb­struck by Natalia, is causal­ly involved with Gery Pekaro­va, an amoral for­mer pro­fes­sion­al gym­nast (c.f. Gats­bys Jor­dan Bak­er). And, of course, there’s the tit­u­lar Roman Gorsky, a mys­te­ri­ous Russ­ian oli­garch who — no sur­prise — is des­per­ate­ly in love with Natalia. The sto­ry opens when Gorsky hires Nick to fur­nish… the best library in Lon­don” for his mon­strous new home down the block; we very quick­ly spi­ral out from there.

No spoil­ers here; you like­ly already pret­ty much know the plot. Tom and Gorsky tus­sle over Natalia. Tom gets him­self into a lot of trou­ble. Gorsky gets him­self into a lot of trou­ble. Nick is car­ried along half-will­ing­ly for the ride. It doesn’t end par­tic­u­lar­ly well for any­one. At root it’s a sto­ry, just like Gats­bys, about love, mon­ey, love of mon­ey, love in spite of mon­ey, and mon­ey for love. It’s a Lon­don-sized mess of desire, pos­ses­sion, pur­chase, and fidelity.

But if love is in short sup­ply, mon­ey is omnipresent. Stand­ing over every­thing, sym­bol­i­cal­ly and oth­er­wise, is Gorsky’s per­pet­u­al­ly in-progress palace. Nick, with his wry but uncyn­i­cal gaze and his lack of alle­giance to any­thing besides books, is the per­fect tour guide for the opu­lent, bizarro world of the point-zero-one per­cent. The homes, art­work, par­ties, pri­vate islands — it’s all laid out and (gen­tly) skew­ered. Even at this lev­el of the stratos­phere, all mon­ey is not equal: Tom’s old goy­ish mon­ey is dwarfed by Gorsky’s Rus­so-Jew­ish mon­ey, and always just below the sur­face is a sim­mer­ing class dis­con­tent — the old very rich resent the new very, very, very rich. And Tom, it turns out, is an anti-Semi­te, if a gen­teel one.

Ves­na Goldswor­thy is an unflinch­ing tax­on­o­mist of the wealthy and an unusu­al­ly assured writer. There’s lit­tle lag as the nov­el lov­ing­ly, patient­ly reveals Gorsky and Natalia’s back­sto­ry, Tom’s extra­mar­i­tal adven­tures, and Nick’s own his­to­ry. Nice, smart touch­es abound: Natalia is described as an alien princess’; expen­sive cof­fee-table art books are com­pared to grown-up col­or­ing books.

So Gorsky has got love, sex, mur­der, yet beneath all that its not-so-secret pas­sion is lit­er­ary — fit­ting­ly, for a book based on a book. There are dozens and dozens of ref­er­ences to real-world authors, books, and char­ac­ters: it’s through lit­er­a­ture that Nick sees and under­stands the world. It’s all he real­ly cares about. I want­ed to imag­ine a woman falling in love with him sim­ply by walk­ing through his library,” Nick says in the most sur­pris­ing and touch­ing part of Gorsky, a kind of nov­el-length love let­ter to the writ­ten word. That love too would be my creation.”

Relat­ed Content:

Men­achem Kaiser holds an MFA in cre­ative writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan and was a Ful­bright Fel­low to Lithua­nia. His writ­ing has appeared in The Wall Street Jour­nal, The Atlantic, New York, and else­where. He lives in Brook­lyn, NY.

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