Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This Side of Paradise

F. Scott Fitzgerald. (1896-1940)

Francis wrote Paradise in 1919 during a summer spent drinking in Minnesota, he was 22. That makes me want to go suck on an exhaust pipe. Seriously, this guy breaks up with Zelda, heads to St. Paul, gets Christmas Hammed on Martinis every night and he churns out a masterpiece which sets him on a path for literary greatness. Maybe the oppressive Nebraska humidity melted made me sweat all my potential away. Whatever the case, Paradise is pretty damn interesting.
Amory Blaine is our main character and by all accounts he's a doppleganger of Francis himself. Amory is spoiled from birth by a mother who wants him to be a societal charmer rather than a normal kid. He heads to Princeton and finds his way to fit in with all the preppy kids who generally go to Princeton. They carouse and live a privileged life on their campus and during their jaunts to Manhattan and other regional locales. One such drunken excursion ends in the death of a revered classmate on dark country roads. This incident haunts Amory for years. Our protagonist meets Isabelle and falls in love, but is rejected as the US enters WWI.
The war is treated as interlude, that is very lightly. The aftermath of the carnage is plain to see in the characters. Fitz may have cobbled together Paradise from previous shorter works. But the change in tone in the second half works beautifully. Instead of the smooth prose of the first book we get a dramatic form, just character lines to start book two. It is here we meet Amory's second love, Rosalind. Ros is pretty much a clone of Amory with one difference, she is rich and his fortune is pretty much shot. They fall for each other but she won't marry him (Can you plagiarize your own life? This is FSF and Zelda (Also who knew that's how you spell "plagiarize"?)). She ends up dumping him and marrying some rich guy. In the meantime Amory is looking for something to bring meaning to his life. There is discussion of religion, friendship, and loyalty. This is most prominent during a mess he got into with one of his buddies and a drunken floozie at a hotel. Instead of letting his friend take the fall for crossing state lines for immoral purposes with a girl, Amory takes the blame and is written up in the papers. 
As the novel ends we have a steadily increasing flow of Amory's poems and a feeling of his despondence. The war and the materialistic yearnings of Rosalind have disillusioned the poor kid. Amory leaves us with this sad line, "I know myself, but that is all-". 

Rating 8/10: I'm a sucker for anything in the 1910s. Here we see the makings of the preppie northeastern culture that has taken over today. If they made a film as a modern take on Paradise Vampire Weekend has to be the soundtrack. This is only the second FSF book I've read. I've also read four short stories (B. Button, The Ice Palace, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, and The Offshore Pirate). Gatsby is my least favorite of all these. I found that novel relatively bland and joyless compared to Paradise and the stories which pop with life. 

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