Monday, April 7, 2008

This Side of Paradise

I just finished reading This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Imagine you are hearing a huge rasberry. Plthththththb!

I am reading "classics" in order to continue my education, and this one was on the list. What a disappointment! It started out fairly interesting, but went downhill fast.

The main character, Amory (what kind of a name is that?), is rich, extremely handsome, bright, verging on genius. But mostly he is idle, lazy, unmotivated, uncaring, selfish and cruel. The book follows his life from childhood through adolescence into the beginning of manhood (if you can call it that). He is spoiled and privileged. He thinks a lot, but it's mostly rot. He contemplates himself unendingly. Will he be great? Accomplish great things? Win the respect and love of his fellow man? Bleah...bleah...bleah....

Women he views primarily as a reflection of his own vices and virtues. Once he kisses a girl he can't tolerate being near her or ever seeing her again. She is conquered, so now who cares? His love affairs are neurotic and disastrous.

Worst of all, at the end of the novel, he espouses socialism. Not so much because he altruistically believes its a fairer system, but because he hopes that with a new system, he might end up on top. Ugh! Barf! This guy is selfcentered, egocentric and, in my opinion, an idiot!

I'll admit that many of the erudite references went right over my head. Clearly, I have not read the American novels of the era. And the poetry the characters wrote to each other....snore! Why would I care about poetry written by such a loser? To be honest, I just skipped most of the poems.

The characters were all so self-aware. They were conscious of their flaws and their virtues and talked all about them. I don't think people are really like that. Or maybe they were different back then? Or perhaps I know different kinds of people?

I haven't read any reviews, so I'm not sure why this novel is supposed to be such a classic. Aside from getting a glimpse into the lives of angst-filled boys at Princeton during the 1910's, I just don't see the value.

Why, you may ask, did I finish this book?

I'm really not sure. Duty, I guess. A book has to be stupendously bad for me to put it down. And Fitzgerald does have some lovely, poignant descriptions. I suppose I'll have to read The Great Gatsby (again - read it in high school but I'm not sure that really counts as reading) to see if there is any redemption for F. Scott Fitzgerald in Sue's judgement.