Cannonball Read III: This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This Side of Paradise was the first novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it shows that he is struggling to be original. There are times when he tries too hard, but the book is mostly sincere and beautifully written. It centers around Amory Blaine, an egotistical boy growing up in the early 20th century and trying to find a challenge he can't overcome. Amory should be an unlikable character, but he's too human to hate.
One of the most impressive things about the writing of the novel didn't even dawn on me until I was about three quarters of the way through the book. Fitzgerald wrote a book in which there are approximately two characters that aren't poets. For every other character, he had to write poems as if they had been written by the character. He spent so much time describing each character's literary influences that they had to be accounted for in the writing, and Amory alone went through several phases of what he tried to accomplish with his poetry through the story, and his style as a poet changed with each phase.
Amory is a wonderful character, and his bursts of artistry and true love make up for his bursts of anger and infidelity. He is reminiscent of Dorian Gray in the way that much of his development comes directly from the influence of the people he spends his time with, but he's less of a blank slate to begin with. He's a boy who everybody wants at social functions, but he has no social skills. He is simply desirable for no reason.
Fitzgerald fell into the problem several times through the book of wearing his own influences too clearly. The most obvious of these influences is Oscar Wilde, both in the writing of his main character and in several of the jokes made. It would appear that Fitzgerald wanted to be America's answer to Oscar Wilde, but his dry humour seemed just a little forced, and it didn't quite work.
The ending of the book is one of the most spectacular I have ever read. I finished the book on Sunday night, and I stayed up to about 2:30 finishing the book, expecting to then fall straight asleep afterwards. The last couple chapters kept me up for another hour simply looking back at them and loving the amount of character that had happened in them. I was annoyed when I woke up at 6 and had to go to school, but it was worth it.
Read this book. I don't know how I can say it any simpler. It's not so perfectly written and profound as The Great Gatsby, but I found myself more connected to the characters and more invested in the emotions. The plot moves a little faster and the words are just as beautiful as Gatsby's. If you like anything about Fitzgerald's style, give this book a chance.
For more of A-schaef's reviews (he reviews several plays, which I thought was interesting--TU), check out his blog, amdschaef.
This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.
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