In the series Deep Cuts, I'm taking a look at the lesser known works of famous authors that everyone has heard of. I think it's a shame that we only know, perhaps, the pinnacle of an author's work instead of his or her range and diversity.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for a lot of things: Gatsby, sneaking autobiographical elements into his novels, Gatsby, his eccentric wife, but mainly... Gatsby. However, what we have here in This Side of Paradise is Fitz's first published novel--the one that he believed would win him the heart of the woman who rejected him, and it did. I repeat, this is the work of literature that won the heart of my goddess mother Zelda, and for that I am thankful. While TSOP has a different pace and narrative structure than Gatsby (there's a short play in the middle, some letters... basically, Fitz had some bits and pieces he wanted to use so he mixed them all together), it captures the same era of glamour, carelessness, and bewilderment.
This Side of Paradise tells the coming-of-age story of one Amory Blaine from extravagant beginnings to the humble end at which we leave him. To describe Amory, the best terms I can think of are "if Holden Caulfield were a lot more self-aware." Holden can be kind of a little punk, but he's not really doing it on purpose. Amory can be a jerk when he wants to be, and he knows it. Yet, somehow, I still found myself rooting for him. We know that Fitzgerald is a master at writing characters who are morally sketchy, and TSOP is no exception, but just becuse a character isn't perfect doesn't mean we shouldn't connect with him.
From a spoiled kid to a graduate of Princeton (by the skin of his teeth), Amory is trying to figure out who he really is and what he can contribute to society. Amory constantly wrestles with the debate of "personality vs. personage", or the public self vs. the true, private self, respectively. Along his journey, he discovers that he's a great manipulator of perception, able to become anything to anybody, but that's exactly why he's unsure of who he is at the core. The reason my heart goes out to him, therefore, is because every point of reference he tries to use to define himself lets him down in the most Fitzgeraldian fashion.
Amory's eccentric mother spends all their money and leaves him with no wealth after the Great War, he cannot seem to fit the tradition of any school he attends, and perhaps worst of all, he comes to believe he cannot love or be loved after the girl of his dreams rejects him for a rich guy. Yeah, I'm thinking that after reading TSOP, Zelda was feeling the same kind of sympathy for Fitz as I do for Amory. I think that's what did it.
However, in the true spririt of the ruined American Dream of the 1920s, Amory never gives up. He tries to love again, even if he eventually talks himself out of it. He takes the fall for his friend when the cops come knocking. He becomes an alcoholic, but Prohibition puts an end to that (not his choice, but it saves him so we'll roll with it). He adopts new philosophies when his old ones are worn out, and the guy never, I mean NEVER, stops reading. Though he can be super snobby and pretentious, there are redeeming qualities to this guy that Fitzgerald has plopped into landscapes of midwestern suburbs, brick colleges, and the drab yet somehow dazzling New York City, and that's what made me want to follow Amory to the end (and pretty much made me fall in love with him along the way). He may skip out on his lunch bill now and again, but Amory is really just a kid trying to figure out who he is, or maybe who he is supposed to be.