Welcome to Encore our binge reading episode, where we chat to previous guests of the show about their latest releases. And today we’re talking to Jillian Cantor about Beautiful Little Fools her re-imagining of an American classic from the viewpoint of the female characters.
Hi there. I’m your host, Jenny Wheeler. Jillian last appeared on the show in July, 2021, talking about Half Life the Marie Curie story, the fictionalized story of the famous physicist who won the Nobel Peace Prize twice.
You can find that in our backlist at the link below.
Today’s book, Beautiful Little Fools is rather different. It takes F Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age classic, The Great Gatsby and tells of the critical events in that story through the eyes of the three main women characters, Catherine, Daisy and Jordan.
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Links mentioned in this episode:
Jillian Cantor on The Joys of Binge Reading, July 2021: https://thejoysofbingereading.com/jillian-cantor-marie-curie-re-imagined/
The Great Gatsby: F Scott Fitzgerald https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4671.The_Great_Gatsby
Beautiful Little Fools: The Book Club Guide https://tinyurl.com/eu4caf3e
Cliff’s Notes for The Great Gatsby: https://tinyurl.com/mr3ah9p2
Paul Rudd version: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0748620/
Leonardo Di Caprio Baz Luhrmann: version: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1343092/
Daphne de Maurier: Rebecca https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/23/olivia-laing-on-daphne-du-mauriers-rebecca-80-years-on
Where to find Jillian Cantor online:
But let’s allow Jillian to tell us all about it.
Hello there, Jillian, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you back with us.
Jillian Cantor: Hi, how are you?
Introducing author Jillian Cantor
Jenny Wheeler: I’m really good, thank you. Tell us, what’s different about your book to the great classic
Jillian Cantor: The original Great Gatsby takes place over one summer in this fictional part of Long Island and it’s narrated by an outsider, Nick Carraway, who’s distantly related to Daisy and becomes enamored with his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, over the summer.
And my novel is narrated by the women who are in F Scott Fitzgerald’s story, but don’t really have much of a voice in it.
So the things that Nick tells us about that summer often come up in my novel, but appear very differently from the women’s points of view.
And my novel also starts in 1917, about five years before the original Great Gatsby and then goes through the summer that The Great Gatsby takes place in.
Jenny Wheeler: And by doing that, by adding those extra years, we also get a really clear idea of those women, Catherine, Daisy and Jordan, and how they might be interlinked and also how they are all in the net surrounding Gatsby himself. And that’s a fun part of the story, to understand or to be given those interconnections.
The women characters get their say
Jillian Cantor: That was my fictionalizing, the story. In the original, the women are involved so much in the plot, the affairs and the murders and the parties and the glamor all revolves around the women, but in the original novel, they don’t speak very much. We definitely don’t know what they’re thinking.
My novel brings that all together and explores what that might have been.
Jenny Wheeler: Run us through the process of how you got drawn into taking this on as your next book. What was the fascination for you in it?
Jillian Cantor: I’ve always loved The Great Gatsby. I read it, I think, in high school for the first time. And I loved it, as a reader and as a writer. The original is so short. It’s really not a very long novel at all, but it’s beautifully written, every sentence. And I was always fascinated with the characters.
I read it again in college and I actually kept my copy from college. I still have it and I would come back and reread it once a year or so, which is pretty rare for me. I don’t normally reread books, but The Great Gatsby was an exception.
I would always come back to it, reread it once a year, but I would always think about the women and I would just wish that I knew more about them.
I think writing this book was my way of knowing more about the women in this novel that I loved.
How time changes the story’s meaning
Jenny Wheeler: That’s really interesting because as you went through that process of reading it year after year, did your own view of the story change as you grew up yourself?
Jillian Cantor: That’s a really good question. I think the first time I read it, I was probably 15 or 16 and I saw it as a love story. And then when I read it, when I was a little bit older, I realized it really wasn’t a love story at all. I. And, my view of Jay gets be changed a lot too. When I read it as a teenager, I thought that there was this great romance between Daisy and Jay.
And that’s what Nick believes and presents to us too. But as an adult, I read it and. I saw that Jay was a stalker. They broke up and he moves across the Sound from her and watches her when she moves into this new house. As a woman, I felt uncomfortable for Daisy.
And I wondered if maybe Daisy felt differently about it than Nick has always presented to us.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, it’s also interesting, isn’t it? A book like that in a different era, because we’ve become so sensitive about that kind of thing now. And I started to think there’s something wrong with this guy that he just can’t move on in life. I don’t remember thinking that the first time I read it.
Jillian Cantor: Definitely, when I was younger, I really saw it as this sort of like tragic love story. And I don’t think the book is really about love at all. When I look at it, from an older perspective.
Jenny Wheeler: What do you think it is about?
A love story? Or something more sinister?
Jillian Cantor: I think it’s a lot about class and, what it means to be a good person or a bad person. And I think it’s about these women, and what life was like for them.
Daisy Buchanan has all the money in the world and she has very little freedom or options. So just thinking about it that way.
Jenny Wheeler: I looked up the Cliff Notes commentary on the book to see what people had been discussing about it over the years. And I was struck by one thing. It had three particular themes that it mentioned, but one of them was displaced spirituality.
And I wondered if that ever came into your mind as you were looking at it all over and again
Jillian Cantor: I don’t think that was really something that I thought about. I was thinking about it mainly in terms of more of a feminist aspect, and thinking about what choices did these women have and what choices did they make? And even if we read it from our perspective and we see these women as bad people, Nick calls them careless people.
Were they really careless people or did they make the choices they had to make because of the circumstances that they were living in
A new character in Detective Frank
Jenny Wheeler: You do something else too. You introduce a totally new character who wasn’t in the original book. And that’s a detective Frank Charles, who is investigating Gatsby’s death. Why did you feel we needed this new character? And what does he bring to the story?
Jillian Cantor: For one thing, Beautiful Little Fools unfold as a murder mystery. In the prologue Jay Gatsby is murdered. We know that he’s murdered by a woman and then it unfolds as who did it, who killed Jay Gatsby. I felt I needed the detective as a plot device to move that along.
He’s investigating the murder and we visit with him every fifty pages or so, and see what progress he’s making in time.
But the other reason I wanted him is because I felt that Tom and Jay are just such awful men, I wanted to have a nice man to balance everything out.
Frank is extremely nice. He cares about his wife more than anything. He listens to his wife. and he really thinks through the case and in the end has to make a tough moral decision about what to do about it. I felt he would be a nice counterbalance to Tom who’s pretty awful. And Jay, who’s also pretty awful in my version.
All the women have a motive to kill
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, the quality of the relationship between Frank and his wife definitely produces a counterpoint to the other male female relationships in the story.
There’s a diamond hairpin that plays a significant part in your story too. And I honestly couldn’t remember if that was in the original or not.
It’s dropped in bushes at the murder scene and in your version. All three of those key women have had access to it at some stage or other and could have been in possession of it. And also, they all have motives to kill Gatsby. Is the hair clip there in the original?
Jillian Cantor: It’s not no.
Jenny Wheeler: I didn’t think it was.
Jillian Cantor: That was something that I made up. The pearl necklace that Tom gives Daisy on their wedding day was in the original. The diamond hairpin was my invention.
Jenny Wheeler: And that’s something that the detective is able to handle as a key clue. He’s trying to find out who owns the hair pin, who had possession of it. It’s definitely is an important part of the detective story.
A Beautiful Fools book club guide
Jillian Cantor: There is a lot from the original that’s in my book and there’s actually a book club guide on my website.
If you just go to Jilliancantor.com and then you can click on the book club tab, the one for Beautiful Little Fools, there’s one section that goes through chapter by chapter and shows you, what came from the original Great Gatsby, and which lines of dialogue were inspired by it.
If someone wants to go through and figure that out, they can check out my website.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that’s cool. I’m sorry. I didn’t notice that when I was looking around talking about dialogue.
You use a lot of direct quotes in the story and you direct readers particularly to take note of the scene near the end, the Plaza scene.
I think that you’ve used original dialogue, but you’ve managed to give it a rather different emphasis from how the original presented it.
Tell us about that.
Same dialogue, difference inferences
Jillian Cantor: There, there is some dialogue from the original book that makes an appearance in my book, but the context is different.
In the original, we’re seeing everything filtered through Nick. And so, when we hear the dialogue, we get Nick’s reaction to the dialogue. In my book, mostly it’s Daisy and Jordan narrating it.
So even in the same scene, I think some of the same dialogue takes on a little bit different meaning. There’s one notable line for me that really explains it. And it’s Jordan, talking about this man who fainted at Daisy’s wedding. And that’s in the original.
They’re talking about the Plaza scene and she says something like “he fainted, and we carried him to my house because I live two doors down. He stayed for three weeks and then Daddy kicked him out and then Daddy died the next day.”
And then they move on with their conversation. but in my book, you get to see the scene of what happened with this man, and why it was so influential in Jordan’s life and what it had to do with her father’s death.
I definitely used these little titbits and made them mean different things in my own story.
Getting to the story behind the story
Getting to the story behind the story
Jenny Wheeler: There’s a great comment somewhere, that Gatsby fanatics -people who really know the books – that you answer some of the questions that they’ve had since it was published in 1925.
And some of those are things like how Gatsby and Daisy first met, and how their relationship inevitably crumbled. We understand her motivations for marrying Tom.
And we also find out the real reason that Jordan was kicked off the golf circuit.
In your book, there’s a definite reason that’s hinted at there, which we won’t give away as a spoiler,
Jillian Cantor: Yes.
Jenny Wheeler: Without giving away any of those spoilers can you talk about that aspect of the plotting? Did you feel that there were some details that needed to be added into the original?
Jillian Cantor: Most of the plotting came from the original or the timeline of where the characters were, came from the original.
We do learn in the original that Daisy and Gatsby meet in 1917 in Louisville when he’s stationed there as a soldier. I took that titbit and expanded on it and, gave a reason for what happens and why they break up.
What really happened? The possibilities…
And we know that Jordan was on the professional golf circuit and that there was a rumor where she was cheating because she moved the ball.
And I thought what if there was more to it than that? And I expanded from there, but every little bit of their timeline I did take from the original, it’s just the thinking and the motivations and things you wouldn’t necessarily know if you weren’t in a person’s head are different in mind.
Jenny Wheeler: We were talking before we started recording and talking about the power that this book has continued to have to attract readers.
And you were explaining that actually at the time that F. Scott Fitzgerald was alive, it wasn’t particularly considered to be a success. Talk us through that.
Obviously, I assumed not knowing that much about it, that it’s always been a hit ever since it was published. Apparently not.
Jillian Cantor: No, initially it was not a critical or commercial success.
I think up through to when F Scott Fitzgerald died, he considered it a failure.
Gatsby considered a failure
And it took off later, I believe it had something to do with it being picked as a read for American troops, or I would have to look up to remember the exact details, but something happened where it suddenly came into the public consciousness in America and taken off since then.
I think now every high school student in America probably reads The Great Gatsby even still, but it was not like that when it first came.
Jenny Wheeler: And what do you think has attracted people to it?
Jillian Cantor: I think at this point it’s just really such a picture of life at this particular time. It was right after World War I, right after the flu pandemic. It was during prohibition, it was the roaring twenties. This book has all this glamor and parties and wealthy people doing horrible things to each other.
And it reads like a soap opera, but it also is this piece of history that you can’t really get from just reading about it in a history book.
Jenny Wheeler: It also gives us a bit of a slice of life of a class society where people who have money can get away with things that people who don’t have money or have perhaps new money can’t get away with.
A tale of rich people behaving badly
Jillian Cantor: Definitely.
Jenny Wheeler: There’ve been four Gatsby movies, I understand. And I guess you’ve probably watched at least a couple of them.
Have you got a favorite and why?
Jillian Cantor: I’ve watched all of them. And my favorite was actually one that I didn’t know existed until I started writing this book and I sought out all the Gatsby movies. I actually had to order it on DVD, it wasn’t streaming I to order it on DVD from a used bookstore online.
And Paul Rudd plays Nick and he just did a great job. Paul Rudd always does a great job, but he did a really great job with Nick. And I think that was my favorite version of it.
I don’t know that many people watched it.
Jenny Wheeler: When did that date from?
Jillian Cantor: Oh, my goodness. Early 2000’s, I think. It wasn’t streaming. I had to find a used DVD in order to watch it. And then I had to dust off my DVD player.
The pick of the Gatsby movies
Jenny Wheeler: So the two that are rather more famous, the Leonard DiCaprio one, for example, What’s your comments on that?
Jillian Cantor: I saw the one from the seventies, I think, I definitely saw that when I was younger. I rewatched that again later and that one, I like it, but I like the book better. I don’t know that it captures the essence of the book and the beauty of the language.
And then the one with Leonard DiCaprio? That one is just visually stunning.
Jenny Wheeler: It was the Baz Luhrmann version?
Jillian Cantor: The Baz Luhrmann, yes. And everything that Baz Luhrmann does is visually stunning. I really appreciated it for that.
Jenny Wheeler: Yeah. I saw a comment that, that one presented the characters more Fitzgerald had. Would you agree with that?
Jillian Cantor: I think he certainly captured some of the like outlandish glamor of the situation.
What Jillian is working on now
Jenny Wheeler: Look, tell us what you’re working on now. Beautiful Little Fools has been out probably about nine months now. You’re probably already well engaged in your next project. Tell us a little about the last 18 months since we talked to you.
Jillian Cantor: My next book is called The Fiction Writer. And out September, 2023. So just about a year from now, it’ll be out. And it’s not a historical novel, so it’s a little bit different for me. It’s about a writer who gets hired by this handsome billionaire to tell a family story that’s connected to Daphne de Maier.
It’s a modern day Gothic mystery of its own. And it’s a lot about like writing and art and ownership and a handsome billionaire, which doesn’t hurt.
Jenny Wheeler: Sounds fun and especially the Daphne memorial connection. So is there just a little bit of that story in it somewhere too?
Jillian Cantor: Yes. There’s a little bit about Daphne and her real life in there also, but it’s not historical.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. Thank you so much, Jillian, for being with us, it’s been fascinating and I can really recommend Beautiful Little Fools, particularly to people who might have read The Great Gatsby in their teens, and perhaps didn’t even really like it that much.
They’d find this one a really interesting way to look at the whole setting.
Jillian Cantor: Thank you. I appreciate it.
If you enjoyed hearing about Beautiful Fools consider listening to Jillian on Marie Curie
Next week on Binge Reading
Next week on The Joys of Binge Reading Avanti Centrae, a Number One, international best-selling author who blends history, science and suspense into pulse bounding action thrillers, and her latest book Cleopatra’s Vendetta.
Born a goddess, Cleopatra died a prisoner, but the Cobra’s deadly kiss was just the beginning.
Next week on The Joys Of Binge Reading, for the best in popular fiction: mysteries, romance, and historicals. Bye for now, and Happy Reading.