F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, is such a thorough portrait of a time and place that it influences how popular culture perceives that era.
Fitzgerald’s first published novel, This Side of Paradise, is a teething step on his way to Gatsby and stands as not only a unique semi-biographical account of his life but
also as his most commercially successful work during his lifetime.
With his story about the formative years of Amory Blaine, Fitzgerald made an immediate splash on the literary scene with critics and readers alike.
A foreword provides a detailed background on Fitzgerald’s life and specifically the events surrounding This Side of Paradise. For academically-minded readers, the foreword is a welcome addition, and enlightening to anyone less familiar with the author’s work beyond
The Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald himself described the novel as “part reading list,” and much time is devoted to the literary pursuits of his characters. Consider them recommendations from your well-read but rather pompous roommate. Amory Blaine is a bit of a jerk, but he has style about it.
It’s remarkable how Fitzgerald views his adolescence, without the typical trappings of a man recounting his glory days. The tendency to look back on our youth
through rose-colored glasses is tempting; Fitzgerald not only avoids it but also takes his tone in a more compelling direction. Amory Blaine is an imperfect hero dutifully aware of his own talents and good looks, but Fitzgerald casts his vanity as his chief antagonist.
As any story written about young people, much of the dramatic thrust is wrapped up in affairs with the opposite sex--in Amory Blaine’s case, a series of young women he idolizes until he is disillusioned with reality.
Relationships are chess games, much more a matter of the mind than of the heart. The two participants are always keenly aware of looming spectators.
The book made quite a stir in upon its initial publication with its depiction of young unmarrieds and how they should have known better than to behave in such a way. The depravity in This Side of Paradise is often not much more than a stolen kiss,
quaint by today’s standards but shocking in its day.
It’s a picture of a time and place in American history that Fitzgerald documented very well.