The collected works of F. Scott Fitzgerald published in novel form under the title of This Side of Paradise make an astonishing and refreshing book. Following in general technique what we might call the Impressionistic Novel shadowed forth in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and to a lesser degree in Pio Baroja’s Caesar or Nothing, and with an acquisitive eye on Sinister Street and The Research Magnificent—but without the obesity of the one or the pomposity of the other—Mr. Fitzgerald has recorded with a good deal of felicity and a disarming frankness the adventures and developments of a curious and fortunate American youth.
The book is fundamentally honest, and if the intellectual and spiritual analyses are sometimes tortuous and the nomenclature bewildering to those not intimate with collegiate invention, it is nevertheless delightful and encouraging to find a novel which gives us in the accurate terms of intellectual honesty a reflection of American undergraduate life. At last the revelation has come. We have the constant young American occupation—the “petting party”—frankly and humorously in our literature.
There are other things, too, though they are less typical of contemporary youth. In the attitude not only toward the war but generally throughout the book the unfortunate fetish of the marching feet and the stationary brains is avoided. This is not a book of the “he-man,” of the college-poster monstrosity, of the literary slumming Pollyanna girl and the blazer athlete hero. It is not dependent for its attraction upon biological excellence or cinema badness; it is an amusing and sometimes disconcertingly realistic investigation of a sensitive mind growing up in our own present-day civilization.
Musings concerning autobiographical detail and apologies for the author’s youth are better omitted. The book has its faults, though they in general represent virtues in our other novels. Some of the incidental poems are delightful, but others sound like the fantasies of a metaphoric weather bureau with a penchant for eternally predicting rain. A constant striving after fine manners and good breeding defeats its end by becoming frantic and an intellectual nouveau riche is hinted at. Although the story is composed of discrete incidents in the most modern tendency, with the gaps consciously acknowledged, the omissions are occasionally irritating and a more obvious unity than that of the spiritual and intellectual metamorphoses of Amory Blaine (subject to change without notice) would contribute to the solidity and importance of the book.
From The New Republic, 1920.