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a stepping-stone to "epic grandeur",
This review is from: This Side of Paradise (Mass Market Paperback)To fall in love with Fitzgerald at first sight start with The Great Gatsby; to fall slowly by degrees start with The Beautiful and Damned, then Tender is the Night; and if you've false-started here with This Side of Paradise, then you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. The novel, written as it was when Fitzgerald "didn't know how to plan or write a novel" is not representative of his brilliance. 5 years later Fitzgerald himself bemoaned its literary borrowings, "faked references and intellectual reactions" whilst praising its "enormous emotion". It is difficult for readers today to touch much except the novel's emotional life but to 1920s America it was a book of its time, one of the first to tap into the Jazz Age's jugular and spill the blood of a generation "grown up to find all gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken...."
Amory Blaine is our protagonist, young, handsome, male, convinced of his own potential for greatness and beset by the concomitant doubts of trying to realise this. It's this formula that we can all relate to (Princeton graduates and male readers in particular perhaps) of youth's vacillations between splendour and debacle; the freshness of first love; the negotiation of social status; the desperation to "be" someone. Blaine is romantic, nostalgic and contemptuous as he makes his way through prep-school, Princeton and out the other side to stand beneath a "crystalline, radiant sky" and utter the novel's famous last lines.
The structure of the novel fights against itself; Bruccoli (Some Sort of Epic Grandeur) notes in the introduction its mishmash being due to the fact that it is a cobbling together of previously written dramas, poetry and shorts from Fitzgerald's published writings at Princeton. It's difficult not to feel this distraction, especially if you have first read and savoured the sublime precision of Gatsby. Nevertheless, Paradise is liberally sprinkled with gorgeous prose: merciless in its description of character and beautiful in that of place. It is the prose, and the truths of youth it renders in all their larger-than-life self-indulgence, that are the beating heart of this novel today.
For those of us who believe Fitzgerald to be one of the finest American writers, Paradise is a tantalising stepping-stone on the way to Gatsby and is worthy of being read on the strength of that alone. There's a pleasure to be had from its rawness and lack of sophistication when compared with his more accomplished works; moreover, Amory Blaine is a figure to be remembered despite the inauspicious surroundings of his conception (or perhaps because of them). In Blaine and Paradise we have the dreams of the young Fitzgerald--he of the Princeton boast of becoming "one of the greatest writers that ever lived"--in all their unkempt glory.