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This Side of Paradise

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald (Great Gatsby)
Year: 1920
Pages: 261. It’s a rough go. I had to reread the first 100 pages and never had any momentum.
Rating: 79/100. Fitzgerald is top-notch, but his first novel isn’t his best.
Amazon: Buy This Side of Paradise

Amory Blaine is the typical spoiled rich kid who thinks too much and tries to hard at all the wrong things. Outwardly cocky and inwardly insecure, The novel chronicles Amory through elitist prep schools, Ivy League college (Princeton), and his graduation into metropolitan living with a job that does little to support his luxurious lifestyle but which is offset my his modest trust fund. At every stage of Amory’s life it’s the same old schtick. Amory never commits to anything or anyone, is over-occupied worrying about his social standing and reputation, and is so hopelessly narcissistic that his relationships wouldn’t last even if he didn’t tire of his “flappers”, who may be more vain than himself.

Fitzgerald’s mastery is in explaining the social context in which Amory and his companions exist. He explains the origins and reasons behind Amory’s erratic behaviors and intricate thoughts. Fitzgerald is considered a “great American writer”, and this is because his stories are so deeply rooted in American culture and society. Many who haven’t been exposed to elitist “intellectualism” might find this book outrageous, but what is most outrageous is how this story so truthfully portrays reality.

Litty's Thoughts

The plot is lacking and the characters are bland yet Fitzgerald’s insight into American culture is so accurate that it makes the book a worthwhile read. Raised in affluent suburbia, and socializing with many in the egocentric class, I can somewhat relate to many of the Fitzgerald’s themes. He does an admirably job exposing this sector of society to what it truly is – as human and troubled as the rest of the world.

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all-time (ranked in my top 5) and I have reread it a few times. The idea that money doesn’t necessarily equate with happiness, but does somehow relate with a lack of morality and an overwhelming egotism is so richly developed by the characters in Gatsby that it influences the lens that through which I see my social environment. My hope was that This Side of Paradise would be a version of Gatsby focusing on youthful exuberance and the growth into adulthood. In many ways it was, but it is too difficult to buy into the characters.

I’m not sure I’m going to recommend this one. I think another rereading of Gatsby would have been more worthwhile.


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