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Every Shallow Cut

Every Shallow Cut - Tom Piccirilli At first, I was going impress you all with my deep penetrating insight by saying this book’s protagonist -Amory Blaine- is the progenitor to J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, but I see Kirk Curnutt has beat me to it, by only five years. C'est la vie.This Side of Paradise (TSOP) is F.Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, and a bit rough around the edges, but overall decent. It's more adult than A Catcher in the Rye. It follows Amory Blaine through college, World War I, and into his first year after returning from the front. Since it spans a much longer period than Catcher in the Rye, it has more character development, and takes its protagonist further into adulthood than Holden Caulfield ever gets. But for all the changes he undergoes, Blaine is still very much a work in progress at the end of this novel. He starts off as a spoiled, smug prep school grad on his way to Princeton University (class of 1916). He doesn’t take much interest in his classes, but instead sees college as a time to network with "the right sort of people". Reading George W. Bush’s record at Andover and Yale University, I can believe this is how a lot of the privileged class views higher education. Part of Blaine’s worldview is that money, power and prestige just naturally find their way to "the right sort of people", so he’s disheartened when he learns one of his fondest fraternity buddies is ::gasp:: the son of a greengrocer. So yes, Amory's character arc starts him off as a plutocratic jerk that everybody treats with deference because of his family's influence and reputation, and he has somehow grown up believing that it is his own deserving personal attributes which they admire.He parties his way through college, and worse yet, the chicks dig him. He’s kissed many girls. This was written in 1920, by the way, so you should probably substitute "kissed" with "fucked" to get the same effect. (Is there some sort of inflation going on with sex, the way it’s going on with money?) AARRGGHH! God, how I wanted some sort of comeuppance to wipe that self-assured smirk off his punk face. Thankfully, F. Scott Fitzgerald was happy to accommodate my wish:First comeuppance: He loses a friend in a drunk driving incident. It's the first time the Universe has ever ignored his family's fortune, and told him "Fuck You". It's sort of like the scene in one of the old Christopher Reeve "Superman" movies, where Supes loses his powers (temporarily, natch) and gets punched in the face, and he is shocked, because he never knew what pain felt like. That may be a slightly hyperbolic comparison, but it roughly works.Second comeuppance: His failed courtship of Rosalind. For once, his family's money and power work against him... in that they don't have enough of it. She leaves him for another rich deadbeat heir, who's connected to an even bigger fortune. I had a schadenfreude meltdown over this- laughing on the couch, jabbing my index finger into the page for emphasis, and exclaiming "Suck it up! Now who’s the chump?" – at which point my wife looked up from what she was writing, and asked "What are you reading?" But it is delicious, isn’t it? Amory has been walking over people his whole life, just because his social standing allowed him to; and he developed a whole plutocratic fantasy philosophy to justify it: that entire bit about "the right sort of people" and how they could do and take as they pleased because their pedigree demanded it. Now suddenly he's on the other end of that. What can he do? If he points out how unfair and unjustified that whole philosophy is, it will make him a hypocrite. I guess I like this part so much, because Fate does have a way of making us into liars, hypocrites or victims of our own doctrines, doesn't it? We start off with one idea, and Experience pokes holes in it, demonstrates its weaknesses, and if we aren’t completely stupid, we usually change our way of thinking to allow for a broader, more sophisticated view of the world. Sometimes the process is painful and humiliating, as it is here.After that, life continues to hand Amory the usual shit it has handed a lot of people. The horrors of World War I, for example. Actually, it isn’t elaborated on much in the book, which is surprising. This Side of Paradise was completed in 1919, and the profound effects of the war on that generation were being explored by so much writing of the time (e.g. [b:Soldier's Pay|432324|Soldiers' Pay|William Faulkner|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347791381s/432324.jpg|2223606], [b:A Farewell to Arms|10799|A Farewell to Arms|Ernest Hemingway|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1313714836s/10799.jpg|4652599], etc.). Fitzgerald was enlisted in the Army but never saw foreign service in World War I, so maybe he was rightly avoiding writing about something he had no direct experience with. I can respect that. I’ve already made this a bit too much of a plot summary, so I won’t give away any more. Suffice it to say that Amory expands his horizons a bit, he loses some of that ugly self-entitled attitude, and he starts to see the world as others might see it. He makes a noble sacrifice for a friend. His crazy girlfriend kills a horse. He realigns his priorities a bit, and he begins to take notice of some of the larger, greater issues in the world. Near the end, he’s a Trotsky-quoting socialist advocating for a Soviet-style order in America. On one hand, this seems very topical and interesting for an American book written in 1919, but on the other hand, it’s just as bad as being a plutocratic oligarchical apologist; just in the opposite direction (well, not really, because Western banking oligarchs funded the Russian Revolution , but from the standpoint of a kid in 1919 who didn’t know that, it was opposite).Fitzgerald pulls the story out of the fire at the last moment, with a development which implies Amory is still on his journey of self-discovery. It hasn’t ended in Bolshevism; he’s still refining his understanding of the world and of himself. I think that’s about as good an ending as a reader can hope for, in a coming of age story. -Thanks, Kelly!