My favourite of the Fitzgerald novels is not nearly as famous as The Great Gatsby or the Beautiful and the Damned, but I do think it is as lovely. It tells the story of Amory Blaine and the tribulations he goes through in the world of money and status.
It is a book famous for being based upon the relationship of Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Sayre. Though it was rejected several times it was almost rejected it was eventually taken up for publication and ended up selling out in three days. Both Scott and Zelda ended up getting married, thus starting just as epic an life as the lives they wrote about.
The book itself is broken down into three sections: Amory himself is an egotistical young man, who believes in his own greatness and ends up at Princeton University. Over this period, until he ends up serving in World War I, he encounters potential romantic love, but he quickly becomes disillusioned and leaves her behind without any regret. The episode during the war is short and he soon returns to another potential love interest – but this too is quickly left behind as she marries a wealthy young man instead. Soon after, Amory’s close friend and mentor Monsignor Darcy dies too…
This story might seem like a slow, uneventful one, but This Side of Paradise is a book which delves into the human experience, and the hope that can die with a numbness to life.
Fitzgerald’s writing is flowing and descriptive, almost poetic in mode. His book focuses on the lives of the young, and specifically not that of the great names or esteemed figures but that of the popular fashionable young man. It delves into what that really means, that the popularised image does not belie what lies underneath, of what shallowness truly leads to. Who Amory ends up as at the end is very different from that in the beginning, though I would argue he’s managed to finally admit to himself what has been there all along.
The book is identifiable with today, with all these reality stars and big dreams of high living. Have we gained more meaning about who we are as people? Has humanity really changed? This Side of Paradise is a beautiful, if darkly tragic means to explore this. Fitzgerald has always beautifully been able to write about the darkness of humanity, how we are corrupted by the very things we create. This Side of Paradise is the first chapter of wonderful exploration of that by F. Scott Fitzgerald.