Jean-Paul’s rating: 5/5 stars
Man, can F. Scott Fitzgerald write. Often, when I read books, I have delusions of grandeur that I could have written that book. With Fitzgerald, I fee like a complete hack and illiterate. There are so many moments of absolute prosaic brilliance in this novel. There are definitely parts where my mind wandered, only to be shaken into stark clarity by what I was reading. Kind of like you feel when you jar awake while dosing behind the wheel.
“This Side of Paradise” is a novel for wanderers and travelers, both of the soul and of the body. It’s not quite a coming of age story as much as it’s a discovery of self story. The novel revolves around Amory Blaine, which is appropriate because Amory Blaine thinks the world revolves around himself. He is every spoiled rich kid you have ever met. He spends much of his youth disdaining everything and coming up with simplistic ideas about society, always with him smack dab in the middle of the spiderweb. Basically, take any teenage with time on his hands to think profound thoughts with little guidance and you have Amory Blaine. Here’s the trick, though, he’s actually likeable. Fitzgerald has a way of making deeply flawed, obnoxiously rich people very likeable. As Amory grows older, his methods of questioning the world mellow, but even to the end he is a selfish person, but by then he knows that of himself.
Fitzgerald’s prose is very scattershot in this novel. It’s much of the reason I enjoyed it so much. He switches often from long paragraph prose inside Amory’s mind to back and forth banter between friends to poetry to a play format to a weird question and answer session with himself. At times, especially the long periods inside Amory’s brain, it can be difficult to focus, but the journey is well worth it. I especially loved the play format where Amory’s love Rosalind enters the picture. It had such a delightful, almost Jane Austiny feel to it. It was an “I can’t put the book down” moment that is difficult to recapture these days. Second favorite was the back and forth banter between Amory and some random rich dude about socialism. These moments all just kind of come out of nowhere and are almost short stories thrown into the middle of a novel, but they are wonderful.
Many people will probably be upset with the ending, but I think it is perfect. I will not say what it is, but it’s almost like Amory has come full circle. A little wiser, perhaps, but just as directionless and just as despairing. At the beginning of the novel, I really disliked Amory Blaine. By the end I had to ask the question: oh my god, am I Amory Blaine? Was I like Amory Blaine when I was in school? We are all Amory Blaine. Well, without the money.
I have a theory about Amory Blaine. I didn’t really know what the book was about when I started reading it and reading it doesn’t really help you to know that answer so I was kind of searching for meaning or direction in a directionless and meaningless novel. There was a part when Amory was in Princeton where he sees a ghost of a friend who had died. Many pages are used describing this period of time where Amory sees this ghost. At the time, I thought that this may be a story about a young man who develops schizophrenia and here was his first episode. There were some holes in this theory. A friend saw the ghost as well. But maybe that friend was part of the schizophrenia as well. Amory did seem to only see this “friend” in his house. Then other friends saw the ghost as well and the premise started to get ridiculous. Nothing was mentioned of the ghost after that, which is pretty par for the novel. But then, there was this really weird question and answer period between Amory and himself. It was almost as if two distinct personalities were talking to each other. The rebuttal to that, of course, is who doesn’t have conversations with themselves? But it didn’t feel quit like that was what was happening. Then you take into consideration the fact that his wife, Zelda, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and I have to wonder if there were any other hints that this might be what was happening to Amory. I guess we’ll never know.