I’m going to go ahead and assume that I’m going to get some backlash from the literary community for what I’m about to say, but I’m in the business of being honest, so… here we go.
For the first item on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (book by an author who was under 25 when it was written), I decided to give good old F. Scott Fitzgerald another go. I’ve never been a big fan of The Great Gatbsy, but I’m always willing to admit that Fitzgerald can turn a beautiful phrase. One of my favorite literary quotes, in fact, comes from The Other Side of Paradise: “Why don’t you tell me that ‘if the girl had been worth having she’d have waited for you’? No, sir, the girl really worth having won’t wait for anybody.” (I have whispered this to myself after a breakup in order to encourage self-respecting behavior more times than I care to admit).
However, as a reader and as a writer, I think these beautiful phrases are often held up on highly visible strings that don’t equate to anything particularly worthwhile. In the case of Gatsby, my issue was the overblown mechanism of the symbols (I will forever roll my eyes at green lights). Still, I decided to try, try again, which brings us to this:
I hoped to see something worthwhile in The Other Side of Paradise, something that would show me why Fitzgerald is so beloved. In glimpses and glimmers, I do see it. The man has a way with words, he truly does. Sometimes he captures the human condition in a sparkling and crisp way that sent me highlighting in a feverish frenzy. But, as is so often the case in early writing, the main character Amory is such a thinly veiled portrait of the author as the author wished to see himself that I found it difficult to take anything seriously.
Amory is pretentious and conceited, seeing value in himself for the sheer fact that he feels he ought to be valuable (a human thing to do, perhaps, but we don’t all go around parading our significance the way Amory does). To follow his life is exhausting, made even more so by the fact that Fitzgerald doesn’t seem to have ever bothered to decide on a style or structure for the novel. It is pieced together in different formats and sections that seem more like a rough draft than anything worthy of publication. The beautiful phrases are beautiful, but they are stitched together clumsily in such a way that made it a true struggle for me to finish the book. Amory was less a character than an outlet for ideas, a way for Fitzgerald to display his (admittedly youthful) worldview about the sheer impossibility of being content as a great artist. So all in all, I can’t say I’m really that glad that I dragged myself through this one, and wouldn’t really recommend doing so to anyone. If you must read Fitzgerald, it’s best to start with Gatsby and see how you like it from there.