“You’re a slave, a bound helpless slave to one thing in this world, your imagination.”– F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise
Google Summary: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s romantic and witty first novel, was written when the author was only twenty-three years old. This semi-autobiographical story of the handsome, indulged, and idealistic Princeton student Amory Blaine received critical raves and catapulted Fitzgerald to instant fame.
Original Rating: 8/10
Short Explanation: F.Scott Fitzgerald is a literary icon that helped shape much of what we know about the jazz age. He is the voice of the modernist movement and crafts a story of discovery of one’s identity, love, and loss. In this, his first novel, we learn a little more about what makes Fitzgerald special. His prose is beautiful and the characters, though insufferable, each have their place in this society that is only a few years pre-jazz age.
Long Explanation: It’s no secret that I am a sucker for Fitzgerald. From my The Great Gatsby tattoo to the fact that I made my parents drive four hours from San Antonio all the way to the University of Texas-Austin just to see a first edition copy of Fitzgerald’s works; I absolutely adore him. I do have a bit of a bias towards his writing style, finding that his works have shaped much of my own. I love how he takes his own life experiences and crafts them into a fictional world with fiction characters based on those in his life. This Side of Paradise is the last of Fitzgerald’s books that I had not read and I am so excited to finally say I’ve read all of his collected works (maybe it’s time to re-read them all).
Working backwards through his collected works, I find that I’m privy to his growth as a writer. When I started with The Great Gatsby, his magical prose captivated me in a way that I had yet to be captivated by another writer’s work. It soon became one of my favorite novels. What really hit me about this work was the fact that I knew some of the history behind its publication and that changed how I read the story analytically. Fitzgerald was in a hurry to publish this in order to win back his girlfriend, Zelda (who he eventually married), so there is a rushed quality to this. In others stories, I feel almost that Fitzgerald takes his time to tell the story; here, I feel that he is trying to pack as much of a story into as few amount of pages as he possibly can. This works, but it causes the story to feel so rushed that I almost felt like I couldn’t catch my breath while reading it. This story is the life that Fitzgerald almost wished he’d had. Or at least, that’s the feeling that I had from reading this. He weaves in people that he met during his college years but ultimately I felt as though this was the life he sought as a young man and it’s what didn’t happen.
There is a common theme of searching for love which was my primary interest in the story considering how rocky Fitzgerald’s own marriage was and how some of his female characters were scarcely based on his wife. The main character, Amory Blaine, meets a series of women, convinced that he loves each of them after a kiss and soon, each of them realizes that he is not the man they originally fell in love with. I almost wonder if he was leading up to the fact that he would eventually meet his wife and then lose her (i.e the character of Rosalind). Knowing the history, it’s easy to see that Fitzgerald’s ending is an alternate history of what would happen if Zelda didn’t take him back and marries someone different. It’s not very romantic considering he seems to believe he would’ve simply found someone else, but then again, this is only semi-autobiographical.
Amory is what I didn’t like about this book. Reading these adventures through his perspective almost made me wince in frustration. I couldn’t stand him and I almost felt like he was a downgraded version of what Fitzgerald thought his idea younger self should be. The context of this story makes it clear that women weren’t respected or reveried as much as they are today, but Amory’s views were almost so antiquated that I had a hard time believing them. I wanted to shake him and Fitzgerald for creating him. There are also a few remarks towards immigrants (Japanese, in particular) that I didn’t appreciate, but again, context is so important. I almost wonder if these issues seemed to be more prevalent in this novel because Fitzgerald was not the master of weaving issues in that he becomes in his later novels. Here, his thoughts and criticisms are a bit more explicit and I think part of that takes the fun – for lack of a better word – out of this novel. It’s almost too straightforward (I never thought I’d complain about this).
Overall, I see why Fitzgerald rose to popularity because this book. The amount of promise that lingers between the pages is enough to inspire me, nearly a century later. I highly recommend that this book is read with an open-mind and with a strong regard to context. And, if you can manage, try not to punch Amory in this face. The urge is strong, but how many of us are perfect at 18?
Afterthought Rating: 8/10
Overall Conclusion: In conclusion, this book is worth a read purely to see how Fitzgerald has grown over his literary career. I also think that it’s a fascinating insight as to how modern American culture developed. Through his beautiful writing, This Side of Paradise is Fitzgerald putting his past self under a microscope and giving himself the life he should’ve had, making this an interesting character study of a famous literary figure.