I’m reading This Side of Paradise, which was my September book for the Numbers Challenge. After that, I will read Ceremony, which was my August book, and maybe then Jill will let me have my October number and my November number, since things always go more smoothly when I get to plan my procrastination well in advance.
I am surprised at how little I am enjoying This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald published this novel just five years before The Great Gatsby, but there is almost nothing in its pages that seems to prefigure the glib polish and sad, beautiful humor of the latter novel. I haven’t encountered a single sentence or passage worth extracting from the novel and studying or admiring on its own. This is less a novel than a character sketch of Amory Blaine – whom we should regard as a stand-in for Fitzgerald, I believe – as he proceeds from clueless, foppish child to self-conscious, foppish adolescent to whatever else happens after page 46, which is the page I’m on right now. Every time I sit down and try to make it to page 47, I am suddenly overcome with some urgent task that must be completed right at that very second.
Amory is his mother’s darling. Beatrice Blaine is the subject of several rhapsodic passages in the opening chapter. She occasions many, many, many exclamation points. She and Amory travel around together for most of Amory’s formative years, until “Beatrice had a nervous breakdown that bore a suspicious resemblance to delirium tremens” (13) and Amory is packed off to live with an aunt and uncle in Minneapolis for two years, followed by prep school in Connecticut and college at Princeton.
What this novel reminds me of, instead of The Great Gatsby, is an episode of Frasier. Amory could pass for either Frasier or Niles Crane, for one thing, but what keeps reminding me of this sitcom is the fact that each chapter in the novel is subdivided into sections, which are given witty titles. Remember the way scenes from Frasier had titles? “A Kiss for Amory” relates an incident that takes place at a “bobbing party,” which seems like the sort of thing Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie ought to have been involved in. “The Philosophy of a Slicker” relates Amory’s last year in prep school, where a “slicker” is a student who slicks his hair back with water, as Amory does. In “Incident of the Well-Meaning Professor,” one of Amory’s prep school teachers tries to explain to Amory why none of the other boys at school like him; this incident ends with Amory screaming at the teacher, who runs away like a scared rabbit.
I am going to stop fiddle-farting around with this book. From now until I finish it, this novel will be my top reading priority. I will try to have something more cogent and coherent to say about it by Friday. I’m curious to find links between this novel and Gatsby. What did the process of writing this novel do to Fitzgerald that primed and trained him to write The Great Gatsby only five years later? I’m not sure I’ll find a clear answer to this question – but if I do, I’ll let you know.