I read these two books some time back, and have been holding off writing them up, because with someone like F. Scott Fitzgerald, really, what can one say that hasn’t already been said at great length and with much more scholarly emphasis.
FSF is a writer I admire for his stylistic flourishes and sheer readability, but don’t love because, quite frankly, I don’t buy into the droning negativity which lies beneath the outer hectic activity of his prose.
And, to be quite honest, I felt this way back in teenage days when I powered through Gatsby, and Tender is the Night, and the Babylon Revisited collection, and picked up on their hopelessness, long before I knew that the writer was a troubled alcoholic. When I found that out the penny dropped, and everything that bothered me suddenly made sense. But it didn’t make me overlook the fact that reading FSF made me brutally impatient with the self-destructive antics of his characters. And, by extension, with the author. Made me want to shake him, and then tip all of his bootleg bottles off the end of a Long Island pier. Figuratively speaking, of course.
Forgive these “non-reviews”, please. It’s mostly a matter of going through the motions before ticking them off the Century of Books list, I’m afraid, because my heart just isn’t into thoughtful analysis.
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald ~ 1920. This edition: Dover, 1996. Softcover. ISBN: 0-486-28999-0. 213 pages.
My rating: 8/10
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s brilliant first novel. And yes, I fully concur with that common assessment.
Undeniably autobiographical and chock full of the expected Big Important Thoughts. We follow young “romantic egoist” Amory Blaine from his schoolboy days to Princeton University, into and out of a doomed love affair. World War I intervenes, but is treated as an offstage interlude with no detail given. Back from the war, Amory falls in love again, but is rejected and in the midst of his emotional agony has an epiphany of sorts in which he realizes that the only relationship which he is in control of is that of himself to himself.
FSF scholars obviously have a lot to say about this one, so I’ll save my breath. For pleasure reading, it’s a bit of a chore, being typically “first novel” full of everything the writer wants to say literally spewed out on the page. He didn’t hold much back. Stylistically extremely uneven it includes long monologues, poetry, overwrought dramatic and amorous passages, and a superabundance of introspection.
But it’s also quite brilliant in parts, and is very much worthy of a thoughtful read, especially if you felt that The Great Gatsby was a light sort of thing to explain FSF’s solid reputation as an American literary genius.
While I have some hesitation about the popular notion of “Fitzgerald as genius” myself, he was a darned good writer, and this first novel is a strong and frequently moving piece of work, despite its under-edited maunderings.
The Basil and Josephine Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald ~ Short stories originally published 1928-1931 in The Saturday Evening Post – The full collection published in 1973. This edition: Scribner, 1997. Softcover. Introduction by Jackson R. Bryer and John Kuel. Afterword by Matthew J. Bruccoli. ISBN: 0684-82618-6. 334 pages.
My rating: 7.5/10
Even if I didn’t know that FSF lived most of his life in an alcoholic haze, I’d suspect that he had some long-standing issues of depression and serious personal doubt from the tone of this collection of semi-autobiographical short stories, which, even at their sprightliest, are revealing of something secretly, desperately dark going on in their young protagonists’ souls.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from these short stories, which were episodes originally intended by FSF to form part of a novel, but which were instead reformatted in short story style when the author hit a long flat spot in his attempt to follow up 1926’s very successful The Great Gatsby with something of similar (or preferably better) verve.
Being expectant of something rather light and sparkling from the promotional blurb on the back cover – “Best-loved and most beguiling…charming and evocative…” – the jaded bitterness and world weariness of these cynical tales brought me up short. Don’t get me wrong – they were very good, just not as light-hearted as advertised on the package.
More than competently written, which probably goes without saying.
The first nine stories concern a certain Basil Duke Lee, from precocious pre-adolescence to his time in Princeton University. If you’ve read This Side of Paradise, you’ve already met “Basil” – he’s merely another one of FSF’s not very well-disguised portrayals of his young self. Attractive, egotistical and amorous, Basil is as doomed to ultimate grief in his personal relationships as his creator was, though his goings-on make for good reading.
The last five stories concern Josephine Perry, the feminine equivalent of Basil, being precociously bright, pretty, popular, and much in demand by the opposite sex. She is always seeking a new thrill, and finding nothing which will take her completely out of herself as she just knows she can be transported in the right combination of circumstances. In the last story, we find that Josephine is at long last realizing that the fault is perhaps in her own make-up; perhaps she can’t truly let herself go in total abandonment in any sort of real relationship, platonic or romantic.
So young in years and yet so desperately tired in spirit, these two, living their outwardly sparkling but secretly depressed parallel lives…
FSF meant to bring these two characters together in a final story, but didn’t get around to it. One rather wonders what they’d make of each other. I suspect something ultimately disappointing, so perhaps it’s just as well that they didn’t fictionally meet.