Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: This Side of Paradise

This Side of Paradise
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Simon and Schuster 1920
260 pages
From the library




This Side of Paradise is the first published piece of writing by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was in such a hurry to get something published before he left for the war that he literally combined several pieces of writing he had already completed. And of course Fitzgerald wasn’t stymied by issues like difference in genre. He just slapped together part of a play, some short stories, several poems, and random ruminations. It is a great testimony to his writing that somehow, with lots of loving prodding from his editors, it works.

This Side of Paradise is the story of Amory Blaine. Amory is born into privilege and an unusual relationship with his mother Beatrice. The reader follows him through his childhood, his years at prep school and college, his time at war (briefly), and his inevitable arrival at adulthood. Amory is a thinly veiled representation of Fitzgerald himself, complete with a Princeton education.

Amory…well, he is kind of a jerk. He is handsome and smart and he knows it. But he does go through change during the novel. I can see how many people compare him to the infamous Holden Caulfield. However, I hate Holden and I like Amory. Holden is stuck-up and whiny. Amory is just stuck-up. And he is more interesting!

The writing has this dreamlike quality that is classic Fitzgerald brilliance. When you are sleeping deeply, you have to find out what is going to happen next in your dream but there is a little bit of foggy distance. Reading this book was like enjoying a good dream. There are also beautiful moments of insight about love, relationships, and growing up.

This is certainly not a perfect novel. Since I will be reading the F Scott canon this year, I expect to see his skill as a writer increase as he continues to write. There are several spots in this book where I found myself wondering what was going on. I love ellipses as much as the next writer, maybe more, but Fitzgerald gets downright abusive with them. The ending is really bizarre as well. {SPOILER!} After all we have been through with Amory, we are left with no idea of what he will be doing next. We leave him back at Princeton after a car ride with two strangers in which Amory pontificates about socialism.

However, the novel does end with a brilliant quote - “I know myself, but that is all –“. This is indicative of everything that happens in this novel. Amory begins life defined by his mother, then by his education, then by his friends and lovers. By the end of the novel, he is completely alone in the world. He has deserted the philosophies and authors who helped him through his earlier years. Amory only has himself to see him through whatever the future brings. 


Some favorite quotes:

“Amory wondered how people could fail to notice that he was a boy marked for glory, and when faces of the throng turned towards him and ambiguous eyes stared into his, he assumed the most romantic of expressions and walked on the air cushions that lie on the asphalts of fourteen.”

“It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being. This too was quite characteristic of Amory.”

“Yes,” he agreed, “you’re right. I wouldn’t have liked it. Still it’s hard to be made a cynic at twenty.”
“I was born one,” Amory murmured. “I’m a cynical idealist –“ He paused and wondered if that meant anything.”

“Well,” said Amory, “I simply state that I’m a product of a versatile mind in a restless generation – with every reason to throw my mind and pen in with the radicals. Even if, deep in my heart, I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones. I’ve thought I was right about life at various times, but faith is difficult. One thing I know. If living isn’t a seeking for the grail it may be a damned amusing game.”



Did you read This Side of Paradise this month? If you did, leave me a comment and  a link to your review. If a lot of people join in, I will see about putting up a Linky for next month. I've never done it before, but for F. Scott I would try!
In February, I will be reading Flappers and Philosophers, which is a short story collection. If, like me, you have the giant book of F Scott Fitzgerald short stories, click here to see which ones are up for this month. Please join me! 

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