Review: This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

46165Blurb:

This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s romantic and witty first novel, was written when the author was only twenty-three years old. This semiautobiographical story of the handsome, indulged, and idealistic Princeton student Amory Blaine received critical raves and catapulted Fitzgerald to instant fame. Now, readers can enjoy the newly edited, authorized version of this early classic of the Jazz Age, based on Fitzgerald’s original manuscript. In this definitive text, This Side of Paradise captures the rhythms and romance of Fitzgerald’s youth and offers a poignant portrait of the “Lost Generation.”

Review:

The literary landscape is overpopulated with insufferable egotists, often of the white male semi-autobiographical variety, but what separates the sympathetic from the antipathetic?

This Side of Paradise is F. Scott Fitzgerald playing in his usual time period with his usual beautiful words. In the booming era leading up to and following the Great War, men were being lost and found. A lucky guess on the stock market made you a millionaire and gave you a name, but battles in Europe led to a battered generation of men questioning where they were going and if it was anywhere good. Amory Blaine spends the entirety of This Side of Paradise as one of the lost until he miraculously finds himself at the end.

This joyous climax did not evoke any triumphant readerly emotions here, however, because Amory Blaine is the most hateful, undeserving character I’ve ever met. And sure, perhaps his character is a window into the minds of the Lost Generation, but if people were/are thinking like this, then I don’t want to know about it. Amory meanders through life, striving towards something indefinable, which is to say striving towards nothing. His privileged childhood and adolescence lead him to Princeton and into the arms of many delightful debutantes whose chief qualities are soft lips and the proclivity to use said lips even before a marriage proposal. Amory’s striving often looks more like stomping. In climbing upwards, he crushes these women and various other members of the underclass (in other words, anyone who didn’t spend his sixteenth and seventeenth years “prepping” in Connecticut, New York, or Massachusetts), an ascent which again, isn’t upwards, but nowards, since he has no destination except superiority.

These are legitimate words uttered by/about Amory:

Oh it isn’t that I mind the glittering caste system. I like having a bunch of hot cats on top, but gosh, I’ve got to be one of them…But I hate to get anywhere by working for it.

Amory usually liked men individually, yet feared them in crowds unless the crowd was around him.

He took a sombre satisfaction in thinking that perhaps all along she had been nothing except what he had read into her ; that this was her high point, that no one else would ever make her think.

And say all you will about unlikeable narrators—I’m certainly an ardent defender as seen here—but something about Fitzgerald’s depiction of Amory rings false. I didn’t know if I should pity him or sympathize with him, so I ended up being disgusted by him. Amory, like personages from The Great Gatsby, is a careless man. But his thoughtfulness is supposed to make him a redeemable man as well, so that we cheer when he reaches epiphanous clarity riding along the New Jersey highway in the novel’s final pages.

Yet I couldn’t cheer for Amory, I couldn’t like Amory, I couldn’t even tolerate reading his various anodyne thoughts. Insipidness is still insipidness, even if it dresses well, prepped at St. Regis, studied at Princeton, and finds itself described by the magic words of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

2 stars out of 5

Advertisements

Review: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

46168Blurb:

The Sun Also Rises was Ernest Hemingway’s first big novel, and immediately established Hemingway as one of the great prose stylists, and one of the preeminent writers of his time. It is also the book that encapsulates the angst of the post-World War I generation, known as the Lost Generation. This poignantly beautiful story of a group of American and English expatriates in Paris on an excursion to Pamplona represents a dramatic step forward for Hemingway’s evolving style. Featuring Left Bank Paris in the 1920s and brutally realistic descriptions of bullfighting in Spain, the story is about the flamboyant Lady Brett Ashley and the hapless Jake Barnes. In an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions, this is the Lost Generation.

Review:

The Sun Also Rises: further evidence that you can hate a book’s plot, characters, and prose but still somehow like the book.

I was bored nearly every moment of reading this. Hemingway’s (in?)famous writing style is partially to blame. His sparse, almost juvenile prose is hollow, devoid of feeling or meaning. It’s irksome but also revelatory. Because you, the reader, become a partner in the creation of this story. You decide, using Hemingway’s elusive clues, why a character behaves a certain way. It’s quite empowering. Of course every book is an act of interpretation and creation on the part of the reader, but Hemingway does it better. He gives us so little that we are entirely at the reins of what this story means.

The writing style helps build the novel’s aimless narrative. Entire pages are devoted to traveling up one street, turning down another street, then another, stopping at a café, drinking, getting back in the car, going down one street, turning right, turning right again, then following that street to another café and another drink. But the aimlessness is truly finely planned. It captures the listlessness of the Lost Generation lifestyle while also showing that although meandering is the manner of transport, the people of this generation are going somewhere, it’s just not very clear where.

Finally there are some fantastic scenes in Pamplona, Spain at the annual San Fermin festival with the running of the bulls. Bullfighting and the fiestas are described very vividly, so much that you can see the beauty of them even if you disagree with them. Bullfighting is one of the novel’s best symbols. It’s this dangerous, even deadly activity that people do simply for fun. It seems ridiculous, downright idiotic but then you think of the wealthyish expat characters at the center of the novel. These people get drunk and have sex with each other and then ruin each other’s lives and for what? Fun, purportedly. Getting gored by a bull in the pursuit of fun is not so different from getting your heart broken while drinking copiously with your lover and her fiancée.

Apparently The Sun Also Rises is one of the first modernist works, one of the defining missives from the Lost Generation, and of course, it is Nobel Prize Winner Hemingway’s first novel, so there are three reasons to read it. But reasons schmeasons. I’d suggest you read it simply to be amazed at how much you can love it while simultaneously kinda hating it.

3 out of 5 stars