Friday, January 20, 2006

Book Notes: "This Side of Paradise", F. Scott Fitzgerald

"This Side of Paradise" was written by a 21-year-old Fitzgerald and often reads like it was written by a 21-year-old.

The story follows Amory Blaine, a gifted product of upper class American society of the early 20th century. His ego and self-assurance guide him through prep school and Princeton, navigating and conquering social hierarchies one after the next. But outside of school, in post WWI New York, he struggles to find his place and purpose.

Amory is a deep romantic and dives into his love affairs with the immature enthusiasm of a little boy. Though he sees himself the greatest lover ever known ("lover" meaning romantic - his society was too proper for physical love) his encounters are entirely shallow and overblown. He is immature but it's not clear if this immaturity is presented tongue-in-cheek or if Fitzgerald believes he is really presenting believable romance.

Or perhaps Fitzgerald is presenting what passes for romance in his day, the cusp of the Roaring Twenties. Whichever the case, it makes for entirely uninteresting and unengaging reading. Amory's effusions of love and subsequent overblown heartache are just silly and unwarranted.

Fitzgerald salvages the work though with his ending. Amory, somewhat more humbled and more adrift than he's ever been, comes to realize that though he doesn't know where he fits into the world, he does at least understand himself. And that, for a man in his early twenties, is sufficient.

This novel is a relic, an artifact of the past. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, not when there is so much more out there that, if not still relevant, is at least more profound and more engaging.

And for those Princetonians who might read it to get a flavor for Princeton of the past (about a quarter of the book takes place there), prepare to be a little disappointed. Amory is chiefly concerned with climbing the social ladder and his view of Princeton society and values at the time is somewhat skewed. And despite his naming various buildings or locations on campus, there's really very little to convey a uniquely Princeton atmosphere to the events. The story could have just as easily taken place at another Ivy League school, had Fitzgerald chosen otherwise when matriculating.


Post a Comment

<< Home