Excerpt from Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Beautiful Little Fools

A Novel

by Jillian Cantor

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor X
Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 368 pages

    Feb 2022, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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Print Excerpt


August 1922

* * *

SHE HELD THE GUN THE WAY A CERTAIN KIND OF CARELESS MAN held his glass of whiskey. It was illegal, illicit. But, nonetheless, it was hers. She would do with it as she pleased, consequences be damned.

The gun made her hot, restless, wanting. Her heart pounded in her chest, a Nora Bayes song. The one playing that sweltering, innocent night when she saw him, years ago. Get your gun. Get your gun. She had her gun now.

He didn't see her at first, as he walked out of his house, toward the pool. Tall and slender, his naked flesh so pale it was as if he'd made it through the entire summer without letting even the smallest bit of sunlight touch him. Nothing touched him. Wasn't that what made Jay Gatsby so great?

He stepped toward the pool, that arrogant walk, that look on his face. That knowing. He had it all; he had everything. He'd taken everything. But then, just before his toe touched the water, he stopped suddenly, looked up, as if sensing her presence. He noticed her standing there, half behind the shrubbery, and he smiled.

"You've come," he said, his voice thick with surprise. His eyes were on her face, not on her hand, not on the gun.

She raised her hand up higher, pointed the gun straight at his chest. And then somehow, from across the pool, he could suddenly feel it, her heat and her anger and her madness. It had been simmering for so long, and now it was boiling over. His face contorted. "What are you doing?" he spoke softly, slowly. He was working it out in his own mind. Why? What? How?

The distance between her gun and his heart was an easy shot. The trigger burned in the heat of the midday sun, as she closed one eye, aimed, squeezed. In an instant, the world exploded, the gun smoked. Her fingers shook and burned.

And then, all at once, his greatness flickered. He fell unevenly into the pool, water cascading into the sky like a choreographed dance of swans. Beautiful, unexpected. The cascade died off into limp waves, and she took a few steps closer. His pale flesh was sinking underwater now, ripped apart.

In front of her, the pool oozed red. And it was only then that she truly understood what she had done. Who she had become. She swallowed back a scream, the taste of bile rising up in her throat.

And then she turned away from the pool, and she ran.



SOMETIMES I THINK IF I'D MET JAY GATSBY LATER, SAY, AFTER Daddy's and Rose's accident, I wouldn't have even noticed him at all. I think how everything, how the whole entire course of my life, and his, might have turned out differently.

Jay came into my life at a moment when I still believed that anything was possible. The war—and death—were somewhere so far away, out of my reach, that they might as well have not existed at all. I had everything and it never occurred to me that I could lose it all. Just like that.

It sounds silly to say it now, to remember how I was. To remember that careless, carefree girl. It sounds silly to say that Jay and I lived and died by chance, haphazard timing. That our paths crossed at the right time, in the right place.

Or maybe it was the wrong time, the wrong place.

* * *

"DAISY FAY!" MOTHER called for me up the stairs.

She had only one way of calling for me, whether she was angry, or excited, or simply calling me to supper. No matter the reason, she called for me with my full name, her voice trilling like a snow goose.

This afternoon I knew she was calling because of Rose. I'd promised my younger sister I would go with her to take food to the poor. But it was the hottest hour of the hottest day of August, and after I'd eaten lunch, I'd come up to my room to lie down. It was hard to move off my bed now, much less think about walking ten blocks to the almshouse with Rose's heavy basket of food.

Excerpted from Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor. Copyright © 2022 by Jillian Cantor. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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