Finding our side of paradise


I am an avid reader. For as long as I can remember, I’ve chased the feeling of escape I find in a book I enjoy. Good books make you smile. But great books? They make you think.

And I like to think.

As a junior in high school, I read “The Great Gatsby” for the first time, and was instantly enthralled. I decided at 16 it was the best thing I’d ever read, and I’ve yet to be persuaded otherwise.
Why it took me as long as it did to pick up another one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works is beyond me. And it’s honestly a shame. I find, in the midst of my young adult years, that I finally understand why his words left an impression on me — but thanks to an entirely different book.

Let’s talk about “This Side of Paradise.”

It was Fitzgerald’s first novel, released in 1920, examining the life and morality of Amory Blaine, an attractive middle-class student. The story mostly details Amory’s experiences in college at Princeton University and thereafter, exploring his relationships with friends, a Catholic priest, and several young women, who could only be thought of today as flappers — you know, fashionable ladies who flouted convention.

Amory is arrogant, and certainly hard to like. Yet for some reason, I found myself enjoying his whimsical naivete when it comes to life.

The novel was an instant hit, becoming particularly popular among college students. Fitzgerald was just 23 at the time of its publication, the new face of “youth in revolt.”

It attracted criticism from so-called “social conservatives” because of the attention he brought to young people. Seen as immoral, undisciplined and self-indulgent, Fitzgerald’s generation sparked a wave of change — not only for young men, but certainly for young women.

While reveling in the wonders of his youth, Amory Blaine faced setbacks that changed the trajectory of his life. His parents died. His closest confidant, a monsignor, also died. And he had a handful of romantic relationships that ended as quickly and poetically as they had begun.

It makes sense why some may not like “This Side of Paradise.” But I feel as though I completely understand Amory’s experiences. He loved to write. He loved to think. He wanted the best for himself, and he imagined a life that he felt was obtainable.

“Everything was hallowed by the haze of his own youth,” Fitzgerald writes of Amory, a simple yet powerful statement that affectively summarizes young adulthood.

Amory’s plight — and his enduring yearn to become someone that matters — is really what being young is all about, isn’t it?

As a 22-year-old — and a member of the infamous Gen Z — I know as well as anyone how the rest of the world views people my age.

We’re seen questionably — frowned upon, even. We think differently. Act differently. And want the best not only for ourselves, but also for the world around us. And when we watch things that we care about get stripped away, it’s hard not to feel angry.

We may swim against tides, but we don’t act wiser than we are, because we can’t possibly know of things we’ve yet to experience.

In many ways, we’re just like Amory Blaine. You may not like what we have to say. You may question our morals and our actions, but I believe we live our lives with great intention.

“This Side of Paradise” isn’t Fitzgerald’s best work. It’s a great read, but as he got older and wiser, he produced better. He is regarded today as a great American novelist, but his debut was just a taste of what was to come.

“I know myself,” Amory cries at the end of the novel. “But that is all.”

Could there be any truer words?

People like me, people in my generation, are at the same point in our lives as Amory, or even perhaps Fitzgerald. We, too, are hallowed by the haze of our youth.

We aren’t asking you to agree with us, but rather to view us as you once viewed yourself.

We will become who we are meant to be, in time. And one day, we will find our side of paradise.

Jordan Vallone is a senior editor who writes for the Bellmore, East Meadow and Merrick Heralds. Comments?