Discover more from warm cups of tea
i sway in place to a slow disco
magical realism + the chosen and the beautiful !
October newsletter!!! The weather has not really been warming the way that I want it to but we have had some nice days. Also, rain. Daylight savings has come around, and really I think that the clocks should be set to this time permanently because I would much rather have the sun stay out later than rise earlier. I don’t see why we can’t stay in this timezone because we did just collectively agree on this ‘time’ idea. The fact that China has one timezone across the country even though it should technically cover multiple. The fact that Queensland just said No ❤️ to daylight savings.
Have a seat, have an orange and a matcha latte (a nice one with the right balance of matcha and milk).
over the love
I read The Great Gatsby when I was about fifteen, and again for Year 12 English. I’m very fond of the book on the whole. It’s the only F. Scott Fitzgerald that I have read, though I did read Save Me the Waltz by Zelda, also when I was a teenager (a self I now feel truly distanced from, a feeling that sits besides all the ways that she is still me and will always be). Truly a foundational text in the Joanne Reading List of Repressed Gay Literature. I’m drawn to the tragedy, and the narration, and how tightly woven it is as a narrative and a bit of social commentary. I feel like you could tug at it and it would come apart at the seams. The beautiful shirts. The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckelburg. The voice full of money. The beautiful little fool. The green light (I want it). The way Nick Carraway pulls you back in with those very last lines, or at least that’s how I feel.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
In the immediate aftermath of Gatsby’s copyright expiring, The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo retells The Great Gatsby from Jordan Baker’s perspective. In this version, Jordan is bisexual, Vietnamese, and does paper magic. I kind of love how this book exists as itself—the prose is lush, alluring, and there’s a wide-eyed earnesty about how Vo commits to transforming Fitzgerald’s tale so that magic is all around.
As the narrator, Jordan is wry and sardonic throughout, a wonderful foil for Fitzgerald’s rather naïve Nick Carraway who is in turn an alumni of the Richard Papen school of romanticising rotten people. At one point, Jordan says of Nick, “I wondered for a moment if he remembered the same conversation I did. I learned later that it was entirely possible that he didn’t.” It’s a kind of passing self-referential moment that works well, alluding to Nick’s unreliable narration—the idea that he cannot be relied upon to remember events in the same way, much less report them—and thus presenting the possibility that the events of both books may co-exist. The thought is immediately followed by:
“I don’t like to involve myself in other people’s love affairs,” I lied.
In just one word—‘I lied’—Jordan revals a degree of self-awareness that Nick very much does not have.
I do love unreliable narration. It works best when the narrator is given an interiority that shapes how they tell the story itself, how they interpret and respond to events in their own minds. Of course, I am currently experiencing the extremity of ‘unreliable narration’ (reading Harrow the Ninth). The way it’s done here reminds me a little bit of this Mockingjay retelling from Haymitch’s perspective. The idea of not only accessing new parts of a story, but also seeing a narrator’s fallibilities as interpreted from the perspective of someone whose version of events is clouded in new and different ways.
I am fascinated by how The Chosen and the Beautiful acts as both a radical retelling and a kind of companion novel that embraces The Great Gatsby. As Vo playfully flits around the events of Gatsby, she allows Jordan to alter and sew together the pieces of Nick’s narration. I don’t know how to begin extracting the two books simply because I cannot superimpose a version of myself that isn’t a Gatsby enjoyer and ask them to interact with the text differently so I can ponder it in my newsletter. This book’s joy, for me, is in the way it branches out. The element of magical realism is enamouring:
It was land magic, earth magic of a kind you never saw in the city, and with the demoniac whispering in my belly and my blood, I lost all of my city reserve and educated pretension to stare in awe and pleasure and wonder at the sight of it.
When Jordan turns to describing Gatsby’s parties, she tells us that “the lights may have been money, but there was no lack of magic either”. When she describes magic in the context of Gatsby’s parties, it’s through imagery that is always left slightly ambiguous; these could be metaphors, if not for the fact that we have been explicitly told that magic exists here. Gatsby’s parties have endured in collective consciousness even though that is the direct opposite of the point and I do think that it’s because people love an aesthetic. It’s kind of like the entire concept of dark academia vs what actually happens in The Secret History. Something in this case about warm summer nights and partying to shed yourself and feel alive. hot summer nights, mid July / when you and I were forever wild / the crazy days, city lights / the way you’d play with me like a child.
What Gatsby’s parties were was easy. It felt as if every wish you had while within his domain might be granted and that the only rule was that you must be beautiful and witty and bright.
Something something Melodrama by Lorde and every night I live and die.
The magical element adds an interesting layer of artifice to Gatsby’s parties. Of course, this is all for Daisy, and Gatsby has quite literally sold his soul for this kind of (economic, social, magical) power, to become “a man worthy of Daisy”. Capitalism huh. We don’t find out until later, though Jordan—narrating retrospectively—hints at it early on. Things will simmer until boiling point and then crash very quickly. Until then, it is perpetually five to midnight, the sky perpetually velvet, the night stretches on forever until Gatsby wills it to end.
Nick is an outsider, in that he is new to New York that summer. Jordan was adopted and brought to New York as a child, and so we get memories of childhood and adolescence and the wartime years, missing scenes that slot easily into place alongside conversations with Gatsby in a secluded gay bar. Obsessed with the choices! When Gatsby proposes his chance-reunion with Daisy, Jordan has no qualms in saying, “I wondered if he was getting some inkling that his grand romance was involving an awful lot of underhanded threats”.
The timeline is non-linear, and so we get Daisy’s bathtub breakdown from Jordan’s point of view, similar enough to the version that she recounts to Nick in The Great Gatsby but also radically different. I am still reeling at the implications and also utterly obsessed and I will now discuss it (this is the spoiler warning, though I am spoiler-irrevent on the whole). In this version, Daisy was in such a state when it came time to ‘Tell ‘em all Daisy’s changed her mind!’ that she couldn’t have gone to dinner just hours later. Instead, Jordan creates a replica version of Daisy out of paper, and it’s a paper Daisy who takes the place of Daisy Fay for a night. The extreme normalcy to know somebody so intimately that you can create a replica of them.
The Jordan/Daisy dynamic is so much. Jordan recalls, “that year […] enshrined her in my heart as something gleaming and shining, something whose touch was almost holy and whose heart could call down light”. The description of Daisy’s touch as ‘almost holy’ evokes gay desire so vividly, yet Jordan’s cynicism undercuts this near-worship; she does not elevate Daisy the way that Gatsby views Daisy, or indeed the way Nick views Gatsby. Still, there are layers in there. On that fateful final afternoon, Jordan thinks of Daisy, “maybe if she breaks enough, something true will come out.” The thought shocks her, and she immediately represses it, “stuffed it in the same pocket as the pearls, and put it out of my mind.” Of course, there is the dimension of sexuality; Jordan is open in her bisexuality and Daisy is ‘straight’ except in the fleeting moment when Jordan suggests that Daisy is uninterested in men or women, and so Jordan does not think about Daisy except when she does. This book is so narrated like it is just so narrated. Jordan discovers that Gatsby’s pier has a view of East Egg and she understands: “He stands on that pier, I thought suddenly. He stands there, and he looks across the water, and he looks across the years to when she was his and when she will be his.” It’s the simplicity of that adverb—’suddenly’—that makes the realisation striking, with a tug of sympathy from Jordan to Gatsby. Jordan is unimpressed by Gatsby, who here had a tumultuous affair and is sleeping with Nick, and will soon try to seduce Daisy again. Yet she kind of understands him, and on another level is not immune to Gatsby’s charm.
I did like the ‘everyone is bisexual and messy and a little bit in love with one another’ approach. Vo takes us to a hedonistic summer in 1920s New York where “It was safe for all of us, for me to kiss who I liked, for Nick to kiss Gatsby, for Gatsby to love Daisy, and for Hell to play its games.” So true <3
I do want to loop back to the Paper Daisy event. Throughout the novel, Jordan’s racial and sexual identity remains underneath the surface, rising when Jordan recounts her childhood and/or interacts with her foster aunt. She is told that she was ‘rescued’ from an orphanage by her late (doting) white mother and comes to realise that story is probably a lie. She describes how white women got the vote two years ago prior and that she herself thought about the future only “in a vague and daylight way”. And xenophobia is a real threat to Jordan’s future; this is still a society that thinks, “Demons, foreigners, one’s as bad as the other.” Vo deftly constructs the perspective of a young woman who has been distinctly othered from a young age, even whilst being integrated into society. The feeling of difference is amplified by her feelings towards Daisy, the bright star who guided Jordan through high society. I would argue that this is where Jordan’s self-awareness stems from, and she casts this awareness beyond her, making her keenly perceptive. Jordan’s ability to perform paper magic is explicitly linked to her Viet heritage; she rarely practices it, because she is both estranged from her culture as an adoptee and afraid of the consequences of her paper magic. When Jordan does find herself in Chinatown and finds others creating magic from paper in secret, her lack of expertise quickly becomes chaotic and destructive. It is the conundrum of not quite belonging anywhere, something that could be shrugged off much more easily during the war years. Really, she has felt disconnected and dehumanised all her life. When she finds genuine connection with Nick (great narrative choice honestly), she resists it:
Being liked like that felt like a little too much in that moment. I would have to go back to my room for a while, among my own safe and familiar things, to mull it over before I decided if it was all right or not.
Jordan first discovers the paper magic as a young child with Daisy as a witness, and uses it again for Daisy’s sake, so that Daisy can go ahead and marry Tom. This 1) is crazy 2) suggests that magic is integral to Jordan’s identity on all levels; an authentic self, if you will, which has been so carefully buried that it takes some prodding at the narration to realise it is there. Again, super normal to create paper replicas of your codependent best friend because she asked. Jordan doesn’t repress her homosexuality but does repress her desires, passing it off as antipathy: “There was nothing as uninteresting as something I couldn’t have.”
Arriving at an actual point. I love magic and the non-human as a proxy for otherness. It is just absolutely so good to me. It’s like the (fairly clear and obvious) analysis that being a Slayer in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is inherently queercoded like yes! So true! Dangers and secrets and repression so true. There are interesting parallels in the way Jordan and Gatsby both kind of use magic for Daisy, then taking into account both of their identities and social positions. This is already so many words and so I will simply gesture at it. I love magical realism I think that it is so good.
Anyway, it’s interesting because I think of this as a coming-of-age novel in a sense, yet Jordan does not really come of age here. At the end, things rupture, and Jordan is wrenched away from Daisy and New York. There are implications on a storytelling level, the one where The Chosen and the Beautiful is a reclamation-for-representation of sorts—Jordan steps away from this story that she was kind of in but mostly not, and leaves America thinking that she might travel, find out more about who she is, a proper coming-of-age journey that will happen offscreen.
What a book! I do think that the ending is a little messy, which I justify by linking it to how the narrative pans out in The Great Gatsby. The narrative and the narration and the atmosphere. Oh the atmosphere . . . I love to read words.
It was as round as a golden coin, and so close you could bite it. I had never seen a moon like that before. It was no Mercury dime New York moon, but a harvest moon brought all the way from the wheat fields of North Dakota to shine with sweet benevolence down on the chosen and the beautiful.
crushed little stars
Feeling very ‘my body’s made of crushed little stars / and i’m not doing anything’ along with this sense of like, WHAT AM I REALLY LOOKING FOR? Kind of just getting through days but not in a bad way. More in a ‘that’s how it is’ way. Almost the end of semester, again, which is like well okay sure.
I was thinking about stuff while sitting on the floor of the bathroom, and then I thought that I wanted to write it down so that I can reflect on it briefly before moving on. Helps with putting things in words and all that. This is quite literally how we ended up here in this specific shelf of the internet. Perhaps I should get into actual journalling, or at least that exercise where you write whatever comes to mind for two minutes and then stop. I do have a journal-esque notebook where I note various things but I am wary of putting actual thoughts down in physical form. Maybe this will be something I try to implement in the new year. The new year feels close enough to touch, which is terrifying as always. Either way, I can’t really remember what it was that I wanted to think/write/talk about. A little to do with the future I think. I’m bad at having concrete long-term goals to work towards. I can never really hold them because I am kind of worried that I will scare them away and so I’m not the kind for resolution or self-reflection or trying to change and improve things. I have things that I would like to happen in the immediate and distant future and that’s the best I can do I guess. Which is okay!
Everybody talks about how The Locked Tomb is an objectively insane text but more people should be talking about it. Specifically all of Harrow the Ninth is Harrow Chooses the Secret Third Thing and I know the vague plot and it is still thing after thing. Listening to a range of playlists for the series and characters, which is always fun (ouchy). Also The Hunger Games soundtrack albums. Seulgi’s solo debut was great (‘Los Angeles’ / ‘Crown’ !) and I generally think she is one of the top girls ever. Also enjoying the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album! Should probably listen to some more of their discography. Favourites from Hold the Girl are ‘This Hell’, ‘Catch Me In the Air’, ‘Send My Love to John’ and from Cool It Down I think it’s ‘Spitting Off the Edge of the World’, ‘Wolf’, ‘Blacktop’. Across other new releases I have to say ‘die b4 u’ by Montaigne is specifically such a perfect song to be in existence while I read Harrow. ‘Flash’ by Rocket Punch is the newest addition to the soty 2022 list I think it is the greatest song ever. I have been really into I Love Hue Too (recently redownloaded).
These really are supposed to be for a Friday but it is a pretty loose guideline and I kept getting distracted or doing other little tasks and then it is like I should really probably be asleep. I draw the line at publishing on the Friday after the intended Friday and I am currently moving ever-closer to that line (Thursday evening) so I will not be cutting. Maybe I’ll reflect on the whole activity at the end of the year. Or I won’t!
Here is a small bitsy game I stumbled upon earlier this week. It’s about love and spring and it’s from the perspective of a bee. <3
Thanks for reading warm cups of tea! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.