Reading Backwards

Book reviews by your favorite Git.

This Side of Paradise

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By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Don’t sue me- buy it here:
Rating: One big fat middle finger up Fitzgerald’s arsehole.
Read: Over the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, 2001.

Frankly, the most self-indulgent piece of tripe I’ve ever been forced to read. It was a summer reading assignment, and one of two terrible books I brought on a visit to my grandmother’s. I nearly went mad.

Amory is clearly a vehicle for Fitzgerald to catalog, and perhaps justify, his wasted youth. Scenes are strung together with no other merit than that they occured. Amory spends his life beholden to, and hating women, from his wealthy but distant mother to the women whose sexual approval he craves. His only goal is to attend Princeton University (hailing from the area, I was greatly offended), and once there, become popular and do no work whatsoever.

Well, he does eventually get into the University (how low you have fallen in my eyes, dear Princeton…) and quickly gets himself into a sort of fraternity- a houseful of young men who are all far more interesting than Amory himself. Naturally, they have little impact on the story. He attempts to become popular, but instead falls into disfavor, and holes himself up in the dorm with a friend to smoke, drink, read and write ridiculous poetry, and philosophize about things they know nothing about. For instance, they assume that the indigent must be stupid, as they never consider any of the same lofty subjects. (The truth is that they could not then, and cannot now, afford to attend.) Amory criticizes everyone from women to foreigners to the most famous of thinkers. When he at last finds the love of a semi-decent woman, whom he latches onto as a means to redefine himself and create a new life around, he appears to redeem himself somewhat. His deceased mother has squandered the family fortune, leaving him destitute, but Amory swears that poverty matters not- they may live together like churchmice and be happy!

All I’ll say is that the book ends with him wandering the rainy streets of Princeton, drunk, stunned, and alone.

I have never hated a character so much as I hate Amory Blaine. He is selfish, self-loathing, egotistical, insecure, mysogynistic, arrogant and pretentious. He typifies the absolute worst of the indulgent “roaring twenties” and if he were a modern teenager, he would have a bigoted blog ranting about how terrible and dull his day was. And how terrible his mother is, of course.

In fact, if Fitzgerald were writing about him in the present day, he would no doubt include excerpts from IM conversations, Amory’s blog, and netspeak. Instead, he switches tenses, voices, and even trips out to script-format for the extent of Amory’s affair with one woman. (I actually had some fun with that, reading it outloud to my mother and my aunt. Pictures the most banal “John!” “Marcia!” “Oh, John!” “Oh, Marcia!” scene possible. Amory and his lady love are worse. “But I love you!” “What is love?” “Don’t touch me!– Oh, Amory, hold me!”)

If you can avoid it, do NOT choose This Side of Paradise, unless you’re able to throw it away when it gets too much for you.

Review also posted on


Written by Shen

March 26, 2005 at 12:28 am

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