Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I've never loved The Great Gatsby. I have not yet seen the movie, though I might once it's on Netflix. Unlike one of my friends, I do not have a tattoo of the famous green light.

But Fitzgerald is so often held up as the epitome of his genre, and at a certain point it's hard to consider yourself a fan of 20th century American literature, particularly a fan of the literature that explores the construction of masculinity, if you've never picked up more of Fitzgerald than Gatsby and a few odd short stories.

This Side of Paradise left me cold, which I found charming. We are not supposed to like Amory Blaine, the brilliant but erratic con-man in training who is the novel's anti-hero. Money and power are the central movers of Amory's world, and the two spin around each other like water down a drain. The pursuit of both syphons all kindness from Amory, especially when his focus is power over the women he pursues.

Why would I like this book? It's misogynistic, materialistic, mean spirited. Amory is self-involved and self-aggrandizing. But I found This Side of Paradise funny.

I read it ironically, as a man in the 21st century should. Like Main Street (published the same year) or The Damnation of Theron Ware (written in 1896), Fitzgerald's characters are too much larger than life to be believable in the realist/ naturalist tradition. And, like other great works of satire, it robs the protagonist of any lasting triumphs.

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