Tuesday, May 26, 2009

American Pastoral - Philip Roth (incomplete)

American Pastoral is a fantastic novel but I only made it through 75% of it until circumstances forced me to abandon reading it. I wanted to open up this review with two anecdotes about Philip Roth--one about a certain beach reader of The Plot Against America who made me feel like most people that like Philip Roth in fact suck as human beings (though I know from experience that it could not be true), and another about a friend who tried to stalk J.D. Salinger and instead got intercepted by the police and told me last time I was in New York that I had to read American Pastoral, that I wasn't aware what I was missing.

I know all too well what I am missing now and it makes it all the more painful to blog about this kind of material. In fact, what happened to me is appropriate to the book in a really sick way.

I made it about 300 pages through this novel. There were 422 pages or so and I was looking forward to putting the "420 test" to it, but I am reasonably sure it would not pass it. However, I happened to stay at a friend's house this weekend, and he happened to lend me the novel A Winter's Tale by Mark Halperin, a nearly 700 page behemoth, which I begrudgingly accepted. I put these into my messenger bag. We decided to see Terminator: Salvation the next day.

We did that and parked on the street because parking in that lot was deemed a ripoff. We found what looked like a good spot and I left my bag in the car because it seemed like a safe neighborhood. I never even thought twice about leaving my bag in any car in the past.

We watched the movie and deemed it "okay" (I even thought about posting a review of the movie during the first half hour or so until I realized it wouldn't be worth trying to untangle the plot) and walked back to the car. Out of the corner of my eye it looked like the passenger side window was opened in a weird way. My friend said, "We got broken into," and I ran up to my door in disbelief. I looked down to the floor and sure enough, the bag was gone. There was shattered glass all across the front two seats. They had left my Nalgene bottle. They had thrown a cement rock through the window specifically for my bag.

Inside my bag were the two books, one pair of prescription glasses, an empty glasses case, an Alfonso Soriano #12 blue Cubs t-shirt, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs CD It's Blitz and the Superchunk CD Leaves in the Gutter, my orange journal, (purchased in Florence for me by a friend that now couldn't care less about me, and besides, there wasn't much worth preserving in that journal anyways, more to be embarrassed by, and so not a cause of great concern for me) a notebook full of factual information that I had kept for the last six and a half years, seemingly unimportant but a great loss of contact information, and, most painful of all, one of the last few objects to give me pleasure in life, my iPod, 60 GB, nearly 12000 songs, still going strong after three years, my companion on countless hours of highway driving, an essential component of all exercises taking place in the last three years, gone.

American Pastoral is about a guy who seemingly has the perfect life only to give birth to a daughter that ends up becoming a "Weather Underground" type of revolutionary zealot that can't really provide convincing evidence that her behavior is justified when she wants to set off bombs and kill innocent people. It's a totally great novel and I liked it much more than Underworld (both published in 1997, both "runners-up in the Best Fiction of the last 25 years" thing alluded to in the Underworld review) and I can't wait to read the last 122 pages, but for me, this book will always symbolize what (pathetically) is one of the worst experiences of my life. If I wanted to replace that bag and its contents, I would need to spend more than $1000. As it is, American Pastoral was on loan from the library so I have to settle things with them. The loss for me has been extremely painful. People may find it pathetic to find someone so consumed by their possessions, but there were not many objects that I held important beyond those that I kept in that bag, and intrinsically, the bag itself, which garnered so many compliments from so many random people in the too-short two years I had it.

A huge loss, and a lesson learned--people will break into a car for a bag so long as they stand little chance of getting caught. This happened around 1:00 in the afternoon. I am deeply sorry to my friend who has to deal with getting his window repaired by insurance and I am deeply upset with the City of Chicago Police force (unless they miraculously return these items to me, which I highly doubt because in filing the report, there seemed to be massive problems with setting an address to the location of the crime) and the City of Chicago itself. It is ironic that in the beginning of American Pastoral there is talk about how horrible a city Newark is and how it has the highest incidence of car thefts in the nation. People say something much worse could have happened, and I'm sure it could have, but it doesn't take away from the fact that a huge part of my life was just taken away from me and I feel emotionally devastated by its absence.

So please, do not leave your bag in your car. The world is full of horrible people.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Top 10 LSAT Topics

Anyone planning to take the LSAT should be prepared to answers tons of questions about the following topics (note I thought this list would be a lot easier to make and actually only the top 5 or so are really bizarrely pervasive):

Top 10 LSAT Topics

10) Fossilized Evidence from the Ice Age
9) The Effects of Political Debates on Voting
8) Television Viewing and Violent Behavior
7) Police Presence and Crime Rates
6) Global Warming – Species Extinction (tie)
5) Childhood Education
4) Smoking Cigarettes and Lung Cancer
3) Native Americans
2) Cholesterol and Heart Disease
1) DDT/Pesticides

Monday, May 18, 2009

DST Promotional Post

For reasons I'm not entirely sure of, last night it dawned on me to finally do what I had been thinking of doing over the last year or so--create a blog for one of my books. Faced with more depressing appropriate thoughts about my future job and LSAT study (the LSAT is 3 weeks from today, BTW) and despairing over never attaining my idyllic dream of a career ensconced in the world of literature (undoubtedly affected by my present reading of American Pastoral, which should be reviewed sometime in the next week or two), I felt it was appropriate to put it out there, at least, that I had actually put my mind to something at one point. Last night I thought about doing blogs for all 4 books and immediately decided against one of them (the short story collection), because several of those items are already on this blog itself. Later, this morning I decided against another, my most recent, still in its rough draft form and one I am not sure will ever be seriously revised, my NaNoWriMo project from last year, titled Think and Grow Poor: Cultivating a Negative Mental Attitude, a memoir of my life from July of 2007 through Election Day 2008--I decided against this for personal reasons, and though it is no small achievement, it is probably my weakest overall work, with only a few chapters in particular (maybe 5) that eclipse most of my other work. Of course, we could not get to DST without mentioning S/M, which may follow suit on its own blog if DST is met with any small level of success. S/M is undoubtedly my finest work, but one that will also "offend a lot of people" and probably make people "concerned" about me. Still, while I don't really believe either DST or S/M is good enough to be published properly via an agent, etc., S/M is the more focused of the two, the more direct, the more emotionally powerful, and the more "something to say" of the two. I am putting these books up because, who knows, maybe someone will see it and want to publish it in book form, because reading a whole novel off a blog could get a little crazy.

That said, when I sent DST to a friend of mine a little more than a year ago, he wrote me back immediately saying that he had read it from start to finish on his computer without leaving his seat. It remains the best compliment I have ever received on this title. Later, I gave it to a very well-read future medical student in Beverly Hills who often spoke of her latest forays into Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, or Proust, and she gave me the second-best compliment about it, that she knew what good writing was and this was it, and that she would classify it as a kind of "sci-fi beat." Also, she had read it with her back up against a radiator and she had so lost herself in it that later she had a welt from the heat, never realizing what was happening. That was through a hard copy I had made for her, and the impetus for the second post on Flying Houses "Online Store"--a stint that has been over for 381 days now and so is no longer possible. In earlier times, before the rough draft had been officially completed, one roommate in particular told me that parts of it were good but that he was not impressed with it overall, and that I might be able to publish it as YA Fiction.

Now, this is not YA Fiction. S/M could be YA Fiction, but DST does not deal with characters in their teenage years--no, the time is clearly post-college for these characters. How old are they? That is up for debate. The setting is Chicago. There are many inconsistences (see the last name of the character Spencer as well as the name of the coffee shop where Ted and Penelope work changing from Mellow Grounds to Uncommon Grounds) and there was an abandoned gimmick about the novel being a post-humously published novel by the older brother of the author, but it was not necessary to pull that trick. Yes, the "twist" at the end is enhanced by the concept of all the events of this piece taking place in "true reality"--but it is ultimately not necessary, nor would it achieve any greater pleasure for the reader.

You can read DST by clicking on the link to the right that says "Daylight Savings Time." Why do I acronym all of my books? Because my titles are cliches. My books are not cliches though. I don't want to market this book to agents, and I don't want to market S/M either. You can take it or leave it. Of course I want to publish them and make money off of them (God knows how badly I need it), but ultimately it's more appealing for me to put it out there on a blog for anyone to read whenever they want than for me to keep it locked up on my computer for no one to ever realize it even existed.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

I bought Blink at a Barnes & Noble or Borders (can't remember) in L.A. (can't remember what part) because it was part of a "Buy 1, Get the 2nd 50% off" promotion along with Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down, which I had been wanting to read. I read the Hornby book back in October 2007 and it is one of the first reviews on this blog. I picked up Blink now and again whenever I didn't have anything better to read, and I never really got into it. At the time I first glanced at it, I was looking for a job in L.A., and it made me think, "Well, if I go into an interview, they will decide whether or not to hire me in the first second, regardless of what I say," and it made me nervous that nothing mattered, that first impressions counted more than common sense would like us to believe. This may be an oversimplification of that volume's thesis (and I'm not really sure, because I never read the entire thing, only about half, and scattershot at best) but it appears to me that Gladwell is on the forefront of a new movement in sociology that is highly influenced by the "sound-bite" theory of new media. There is a definite hook to his idea, but in the end it does not really tell us that much about ourselves that we didn't already know.

Thus, Outliers. I wanted to read this book because it was popular and new (came out in late 2008) and because I thought it would tell me the secret to being sucessful. No such luck. If you read this book, you will learn why Bill Gates and the Beatles became successful. It has to do with practicing one thing for 10,000 hours. You will learn why so many hockey players are born in January. You will learn why Jewish lawyers born in the early 1930s whose parents worked in the garment business and who specialized in corporate takeovers are great successes not because of their intellect, but because of their circumstances. By the end, the book had become so repetitive at hammering home this idea that I just wanted to skim the text because it had become so predictable.

The best part about the book is the chapter on plane crashes. It made me want to become an airline pilot. The transcriptions from the black box recorder are dramatic, morbidly depressing, tragi-comic, and very unsettling. It all ends up having to do with Korean Air and how they had such a horrible record of plane crashes and how they turned it around.

I don't even know what I want to say about this book. It became a chore for me to read after a while. I'm glad it's over. I don't recommend it, but it is depressing and funny to think about what people will be saying about people born between 1980-1987, or whatever, seventy years from now. We are products of our circumstances, sure. And there's no way out. You're either lucky or you're not. If you're Asian, you'll be good at math and properly adjusted to the concept of rising before dawn 360 days out of the year. If you're an American inured to the long summer break rule of the predominant educational system, you'll be limited in ways you never knew. Reading this book made me feel pathetic and hopeless. Some of it may be "interesting" and "revealing"--and non-fiction sociological texts serve a different purpose than fiction--but still, I would have liked to see a small qualification, one random deviation to give the regular everyday reader a tiny smidgen of hope that they would be able to do something great with their life even if they weren't lucky in all the right ways.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Informers - Bret Easton Ellis

I am surprised this is the first review of a Bret Easton Ellis book on flying houses, but I haven't read or re-read any of his novels in the last 13 months. Oeuvre rule reborn: I've read everything he's written except the entire whole of American Psycho for various reasons. That is probably a good one to earmark for review as it is generally considered his magnum opus--but for my tastes, I prefer Glamorama. Less Than Zero is the perfect wunderkind debut model novel for every 19 year old to follow and fail after attempting. I read it in one night in Paris five and a half years ago. Interestingly, the first Ellis novel I read was The Rules of Attraction, which is much better than the movie, a good execution of the "college novel" as well as the "multi-narrator novel." I read Lunar Park right after it came out in 2005 and devoured it giddily, though it left me feeling strangely empty--like it was all a big joke without much substance. Still, the opening portion is one of the best things he has ever done. I could go on forever, but the point is, I hadn't read The Informers. One of my friends in college was a pretty big fan of his, and I saw the volume on her bookshelf and asked how it was and she said, "It sucks." I don't totally agree but I will agree that it is probably his weakest.

For some perspective, The Informers is a collection of 13 short stories that Ellis wrote around the time of Less Than Zero, or right after. It was released in 1994, after American Psycho and before Glamorama. In a way, the only reason it's published is because it's the same author. I don't think the book would have been published if it had been written by a nobody. There are flashes of brilliance, but no single story will cut a reader dead. It is clever how much of an interconnected fictional world Ellis has constructed, but that is its chief virtue (you can play the literary equivalent of "Where's Waldo" by connecting names in the stories with characters in other Ellis books). There are a few nice aesthetic moments, but these deserve to be taken apart one by one.

#1-"Bruce Calls from Mulholland"-Sort of an atmospheric piece that leaves little impression. About a few different characters and how much money they are worth and who sleeps with whom and it's summer 1982.
#2-"At the Still Point"-About a dinner on the one-year-anniversary of a friend's death. This isn't a bad story, per se, but it's something that would work much better in a larger context, which is my most widespread complaint about these stories, they zip in and out and leave the reader cold.
#3-"The Up Escalator"-The first longer story in the collection, is about the mother of a rich L.A. family and how she is sleeping with a student at UCLA and is married to a movie exec and has two kids and the centerpiece is when they have dinner at Spago. Actually one of the better stories.
#4-"In the Islands"-About a father who takes his son with on a trip to Hawaii and is charming in a "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" type way. This is probably the best story in the collection, which is unlikely, but true, I think.
#5-"Sitting Still"-A girl rides across the country from New Hampshire to L.A. on a train to see her father get married to a woman who is not much more than a few years older than her. I found this story to be something of a snooze but there were a few good parts, probably the funniest single box of dialogue in the book for me:

"Are you okay?" Cheryl asks.
"Yeah. I'm fine," I say sullenly.
"But you don't look too good," Cheryl says. "I mean, you're tan but you don't look happy."
"But I'm okay."
"Have you ever taken zinc oxide tablets?"
"Oh yeah," I say. "I take them."
"But are you still smoking?"
"Not as much."
"Your father promised me he's going to quit," Cheryl says, spooning yogurt into her mouth.
"Does Graham smoke?"
"Yeah. A pipe too."
"Not a pipe," Cheryl says, horrified.
"Sometimes. It depends."
"On what?"
"On whether he would rather use rolling papers," I say and then, when this comment is returned with an uncomprehending look, I offer, "Or if he's lost his bong."
"Do you want to join up for the aerobics class I'm taking over at the plaza?"
"Aerobics class?"
"You say that word like you've never heard it before."
"I'm just tired," I say. "I think I want to go."
"This is kiwi tofu," she says. "I know it sounds totally crazy but it's good. Don't make fun, okay?"
"I'm really sorry."
Later, in the new Jaguar my father bought her, Cheryl asks, "Do you like me?"
"I think so," I pause. "I don't know."
"That's not good enough, honey."
"But that's all I can tell you." (78-79)

#6-"Water from the Sun"-I think this is the same Cheryl from the previous story but under different circumstances and a very changed character. She's a newscaster who does coke in airport bathrooms and wishes someone would chase her. I thought that line was funny. At one point a punk asks her for her autograph in a diner and she obliges while they sort of make fun of her afterwards and it's kind of sad. Not an awful story, but not really that great.
#7-"Discovering Japan"-Initially annoying, this is one of the more notable stories in the collection, about a rock star in Japan misbehaving. It's funny and immoral. It's also surprisingly long.
#8-"Letters from L.A."-Unquestionably the most rote exercise in the book. It might have gotten a good grade in the class I took called "The Letter as Literature," but this quickly gets boring. It's about a girl who moves to L.A. and writes letters back to her friend at college in New Hampshire and it's filled with all the usual stuff of an Ellis book and only gets vaguely interesting when she talks about how she is friends with a suicidal guy named Randy.
#9-"Another Gray Area"-Pretty much a stock Ellis piece about a guy who directs music videos named Martin and his friend Graham and Graham's dad dies in a plane crash and he goes to identify the body, but the best part is when there is a weird hostage situation outside the building where Martin lives, which contains the best line of the book, delivered by the night doorman, which sums up the quintessence of L.A.:

"Jack shrugs. 'Unless you're willing to do some pretty awful things it's hard getting a job in this town--and I'm willing.' (163)

#10-The Secrets of Summer"-The story about vampires that is probably the worst thing I have ever read by Ellis. Perhaps it contains seeds of American Psycho in it, but I found it just silly and boring.
#11-"The Fifth Wheel"-This is not a great story, but it is probably the second best in the collection. If you crossed a Richard Lange short story with one by Dennis Cooper, you would get this. It's kind of complicated but it involves a guy who works at a car wash, who has two random drug addicted friends stay at his place in Van Nuys and how they kidnap a kid for ransom and then don't really make much of an effort to collect anything.
#12-"On the Beach"-Very boring story about a girl who is dying of cancer and wants to spend her last days on the beach. It's random and weird and not very effective or affecting.
#13-"At the Zoo with Bruce"-Mercifully brings the collection to a close. It's not totally awful, but it's not especially worthwhile either. I don't think I've ever read a story that takes place at a a zoo so maybe that is worthwhile for you.

After all of that, it seems like a pretty bad book, but on the whole, it's still above-average, I think. I read it in about one 24 hour period and its 220 pages or so, if that means anything. I also felt the first half to be much better than the second half, mainly because I think I didn't like the vampire story.

There's a new movie out that is the adaptation of this book and it got some pretty bad reviews. I'd like to see it but I think I'll wait until it comes out on DVD because it's barely playing in theaters around here anymore. Ellis is probably the most successful novelist of our time--the only example of the writer who can become ridiculously rich and famous through both books and movies. It's good that he does what he does. That he's the only one and that his subject matter is, unfailingly, sex among uncharacteristically attractive, rich, drugged out people, is a good lesson for aspiring writers (see previous blog post about Dick Caramel's making extra money for stories that sell to the movies that have more "action" in them....Fitzgerald is always appropriate).

Still, even if parts of his books get trashy, I'll read anything he writes. I can't think of anyone else who writes such breezy prose. Sometimes breezy lacks substance (in this case), and maybe that's unsatisfying in the long run, but during the actual reading, it's a pleasure. Maybe his books are more like drugs than most other writers'. Share them with friends, hide them from your parents. His next book should be out a year from now and it is the sequel to Less Than Zero. So there's something to look forward to.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Beautiful and Damned - F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Beautiful and Damned was published in 1922, almost exactly two years after This Side of Paradise. That Fitzgerald wrote the entire novel between 1919 and 1921 amidst engagement, marriage, the publication and huge reception of his first novel, the sales of first short stories to magazines, and the beginnings of a legendary dozen years of "going on a party," is a testament to the enormous productivity one may be able to achieve in their earlier and more vulnerable years. A friend of mine did not like Beautiful and Damned when I told him he "had" to read it a few years ago. Oh, at the time he said he liked it, but recently he revealed that he thought it was too long and some other vague complaint. Another friend of mine told me, the first time I read it, about four years ago, that it was her favorite novel by Fitzgerald. I may not go as far to say that it is my favorite, but I will say it is his most underrated, and while I recently told that first friend that I felt it was better than This Side of Paradise, I'm not sure I can still believe myself. As an introduction, Paradise is about as good as you can do, but a lot of it is nostalgic and "protected" from the outside world. As a follow-up then, Beautiful is exactly what it needs to be--the logical extension, the harsh realization, the bitter slap in the face. It also stands the test of time as a fantastic example of a "New York Novel."

As far as structure goes, The Beautiful and Damned has a whole lot in common with This Side of Paradise, the main difference being that it is about 100 pages longer. The book is broken up into many "mini-chapters" and there are continued literary experiments in playwrighting format--though the character-penned poetry of Paradise is no longer to be found. The characters are pure Fitzgerald. Anthony Patch is not so different from Amory Blaine at all, except that he has more of an air of vulnerability. Gloria Gilbert is an entirely new creation, and though seeds of her may appear in Paradise, she stands as the total literary execution of the "flapper" par excellence. Aside from character, however, the story in the novel is much more highly developed than in Paradise.

It begins with Anthony as a recent Harvard graduate, going out with his friends Maury Noble and Richard Caramel. Caramel's cousin is Gloria Gilbert, and Maury meets her on a separate occasion, and so Anthony and the reader are more aware of Gloria as a reputation, a mystical figure until she makes her first appearance in the novel, which is a clever way to start writing about a romance. The two take an instant liking to each other--and it is never really clear how much it matters that Anthony Patch is the sole living heir to Adam Patch and his $75 million fortune--and decide to be married. They are given an "ample" allowance to live on and the majority of the plot concerns their first seven years or so of marriage. Anthony has two entertaining attempts at working a job himself, but finds neither of them suitable, and Gloria tries to be a late-blooming actress around age 29, but they spend most of their marriage loafing. Anthony does also have a stint in the Army during World War I that provides the longest diversion in the novel, but things only get worse afterwards, and their drinking only increases with Prohibition. A huge transformation takes place, so much that by the end, Anthony Patch has become inarguably the most disgraceful character Fitzgerald has ever featured principally. The descriptions near the end of the final chapter "No Matter!" depict a pure alcoholic, shaking in bed upon awakening, already needing a drink. Even by today's standards, these portions of the novel can still shock.

In the introduction to my edition, Kermit Vanderbilt supplies a mountain of information about every single notion of an event concerning this volume's publication, interesting because it is not considered a classic by any means. The Great Gatsby is obviously, Fitzgerald's total classic--and also his most mainstream offering--seeds of which may be contained in a choice utterance by Dick Caramel in this volume--but not his most popular at the time. Paradise earns that distinction, and is probably a leg or two behind Tender is the Night in terms of long-term critical approval. The Last Tycoon is usually written off as an unfinished novel but anyone who has read it knows that it stands on its own surprisingly well and is the most modern of all Fitzgerald novels--but the point needs to be made: all 5 of his novels are excellent. Some are better than others, but none deserve to be totally ignored. Fitzgerald had his own misgivings about the novel, which are probably correct in their estimation since this novel is, unfortunately, usually given bottom-of-the-barrel treatment along with Tycoon:

"His rather frenzied state of mind is obvious in the letter to Hovey. This 'bitter and insolent' novel, he feared, 'will never be popular and...will undoubtedly offend a lot of people.' Rather perversely, he added, 'Personally, I should advise you against serializing it.' (x)

What is most offensive about the novel? Probably a few of the choice religious statements made by Maury Noble, who is apparently a not-much-disguised version of H.L. Mencken. I can find no better example than an explanation offered near the end of the chapter "Symposium":

"Once upon a time all the men of mind and genius in the world became of one belief--that is to say, of no belief. But it wearied them to think that within a few years after their death many cults and systems and prognostications would be ascribed to them which they had never meditated nor intended. So they said to one another:
'Let's join together and make a great book that will last forever to mock the credulity of man. Let's persuade our more erotic poets to write about the delights of the flesh, and induce some of our robust journalists to contribute stories of famous amours. We'll include all the most preposterous old wives' tales now current. We'll choose the keenest satirist alive to compile a deity from all the deities worshipped by mankind, a deity who will be more magnificent than any of them, and yet so weakly human that he'll become a byword for laughter the world over--and we'll ascribe to him all sorts of jokes and vanities and rages, in which he'll be supposed to indulge for his own diversion, so that the people will read our book and ponder it, and there'll be no more nonsense in the world.
'Finally, let us take care that book possesses all the virtues of style, so that it may last forever as a witness to our profound scepticism and our universal irony.'
'So the men did, and they died.'
'But the book lived always, so beautifully had it been written, and so astounding the quality of imagination with which these men of mind and genius had endowed it. They had neglected to give it a name, but after they were dead it became known as the Bible." (213)

Later, Dot, the girl whom Anthony has an affair with while he is in the Army is described in euphemistic terms as being promiscuous, and I could see how these few pages describing the previous men she had "seen" could be viewed as offensive. Finally, some of the descriptions of alcoholism near the end are, again, difficult to swallow. But this is not a "pulp" or "underground" novel--most of it is concerned with the aesthetic guidelines governing the aristocracy during a short period in 20th century American history. Much of that, obviously for Fitzgerald, revolves around art and literature, and in Richard Caramel he presents what must be a skewed version of himself. Caramel's first novel "The Demon Lover" shares the original working title of The Beautiful and Damned and close to the end Fitzgerald employs the type of self-reference that would later become vogue with writers like Bret Easton Ellis:

"'The arts are very old,' said Anthony after a while. With a few glasses the tension of his nerves relaxed and he found that he could think again.
'Which art?'
'All of them. Poetry is dying first. It'll be absorbed into prose sooner or later. For instance, the beautiful word, the colored and glittering word, and the beautiful simile belong in prose now. To get attention poetry has got to strain for the unusual word, the harsh, earthy word that's never been beautiful before. Beauty, as the sum of several beautiful parts, reached its apotheosis in Swinburne. It can't go any further--except in the novel, perhaps.'
Dick interrupted him impatiently:
'You know these new novels make me tired. My God! Everywhere I go some silly girl asks me if I've read 'This Side of Paradise.' Are our girls really like that? If it's true to life, which I don't believe, the next generation is going to the dogs. I'm sick of all this shoddy realism. I think there's a place for the romanticist in literature.'" (347)

At the beginning Caramel has yet to have his success, and Patch and Noble consider him one of their best friends, but also denigrate him to some degree for always talking about himself and his writing and question his intellectual rigor. But later he is extremely successful with his first novel, and writes short stories for the income, both of which are part of the F. Scott Fitzgerald myth. In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway mentions how he didn't agree with Fitzgerald that a short story could be formulaic and successful--that "cookie cutter" short stories weren't worth writing, basically. But Fitzgerald contended that there was a need for money and that he had figured out a pattern to follow and there was nothing wrong with using one's talents towards a profitable aim. Also, some of Caramel's beliefs point the way towards what would become Fitzgerald's next novel:

"In the two years since the publication of 'The Demon Lover,' Dick had made over twenty-five thousand dollars, most of it lately, when the reward of the author of fiction had begun to swell unprecedentedly as a result of the voracious hunger of the motion pictures for plots. He received seven hundred dollars for every story, at that time a large emolument for such a young man--he was not quite thirty--and for every one that contained enough 'action' (kissing, shooting, and sacrificing) for the movies, he obtained an additional thousand. His stories varied; there was a measure of vitality and a sort of instinctive technic in all of them, but none attained the personality of 'The Demon Lover,' and there were several that Anthony considered downright cheap. These, Dick explained severely, were to widen his audience. Wasn't it true that men who had attained real permanence from Shakespeare to Mark Twain had appealed to many as well as to the elect?" (184)

Ultimately, the most compelling aspect of this novel is the depiction of the non-working life. Near the beginning, Gloria states that she doesn't know why anyone ever does anything, and Anthony tries a variety of earning methods, though most of his attention remains focused on writing historical essays about the Middle Ages. He later, on advice from Dick, attempts to sell his own short stories to magazines, which doesn't work either. He tries two jobs--one of them a non-descript office job in the sales industry and the other selling stocks in a book called "Heart Talks on Ambition" which is a kind of cross between How to Win Friends and Influence People and Think and Grow Rich in a kind of "get rich quick" scheme that is redolent of the online scam ads of today. The second contains the more entertaining sequence, with Anthony getting progressively drunker and trying to conduct "business" through cold-knocking on doors, and eventually shouting at everyone in a delicatessen, but the first contains one of the most powerful statements on the compromise that society makes on the artistic soul:

"One discussed how Mr. Wilson had made his money, what method Mr. Hiemer had employed, and the means resorted to by Mr. Hardy. One related age-old but eternally breathless anecdotes of the fortunes stumbled on precipitously in the street by a 'butcher' or a 'bartender,' or 'a darn messenger boy, by golly!' and then one talked of the current gambles, and whether it was best to go out for a hundred thousand a year or be content with twenty. During the preceding year one of the assistant secretaries had invested all his savings in Bethlehem Steel. The story of his spectacular magnificence, of his haughty resignation in January, and of the triumphal palace he was now building in California, was the favorite office subject. The man's very name had acquired a magic significance, symbolizing as he did the aspirations of all good Americans. Anecdotes were told about him--how one of the vice-presidents had advised him to sell, by golly, but he had hung on, even bought on margin, 'and now look where he is!'
Such, obviously, was the stuff of life--a dizzy triumph dazzling the eyes of all of them, a gypsy siren to content them with meagre wage and with the arithmetical improbability of their eventual success.
To Anthony the notion became appalling. He felt that to succeed here the idea of success must grasp and limit his mind. It seemed to him that the essential element in these men at the top was their faith that their affairs were the very core of life. All other things being equal, self-assurance and opportunism won out over technical knowledge; it was obvious that the more expert work went on near the bottom--so, with appropriate efficiency, the technical experts were kept there." (190-191)

Fitzgerald's prose is "reproachless," to use a word that is repeated often throughout this novel, and one could scarcely hope for a better model for the "early marriage" story. I am interested in reading Revolutionary Road to see how closely it compares with this, though they already seem quite different. And Beautiful and Damned is not so different from Tender is the Night, either, except Tender is more intricately constructed, an infinitely more laborious product, and depicts the actual end of a marriage whereas Beautiful depicts a marriage inflated to the point of bursting with conflict and debauched behavior. It may not technically be his "best," but I just want to say that with Fitzgerald, it doesn't really matter--as long as it's a Fitzgerald novel, it's going to be excellent. Even if the closing lines do reflect the closing lines of This Side of Paradise, on a severely less eloquent note,

"'I showed them,' he was saying. 'It was a hard fight, but I didn't give up and I came through!" (370)

there are still many cases one could make for this novel eclipsing the quality of its predecessor. But that's beside the point--these first two novels show Fitzgerald at his most ambitious, his most driven, his most productive, and his most experimental, while also providing a glimpse into his uncertain, mythological future.