I had no idea Fitzgerald was capable of this. And I think that is the curse of many readers who have avoided him. Fitzgerald’s curse is growing up as a detestable cliche.
I have pursued Fitzgerald largely from a conscious effort to demolish my own bigotry toward the rich and privileged. The shroud of Princeton, preparatory school, disposable income and lavish expatriation, a resume indicative of snobbery without the privilege of personal familiarity, not only blinds people to Fitzgerald’s unique brilliance but opens eyes to the similarity between the snubber and the snubbed. Selfishness is apparent in every social class and conceit rampant in all relationships. Do we dare confront the question of futility in pursuits of proper social course and conventionality?
This Side of Paradise is a somewhat autobiographical coming of age story. Each step brings Amory closer to realizing and understanding how to live with his fundamental self; arrogant prep school junky turned Princeton socialite turned disillusioned intellectual. His fear of the dark symbolizes his disgust and inability to displace his own perspective through those of other classes. His female relationships mirrors different aspects of his personality and he is blessed by a mentor who has faith in his inevitable victory; a victory over his personality and peace with who he is. He’s not a likable guy. But he goes through what all people go through.
I’ve railed against Fitzgerald for his style and still hold to those distastes but find them a little less potent in Paradise. Sure, he uses uncommon words when there is little need. But I very much enjoyed the loose formatting of the book. It made me think that Fitzgerald’s premise was far more important than the medium through which he was writing it. As he argued at one point in the book, if his love was for what was being written rather than what was being written about, no one would read it after twenty years. It also served to break some stereotypical judgments that I had about the author.
Again, I was not prepared to essentially read the coming of age of Harry Heller. This is heavy in philosophical and intellectual banter and it served greatly in breaking some of my own prejudices against rich types.