Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Tender is the Night" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald is having a moment. Maybe it's on the way out now, with the release & eventual fizzling of "The Great Gatsby" movie last year, but tales of the jazz were still interesting enough to my DC book club that I was able to entice them to read "Tender is the Night" for our October pick. Besides, to my memory, I have never read a book with a protagonist sharing my name, and that sounded interesting.

First, it's weird reading about someone with your name who is not a whole lot like you. Nicole & Dick Diver are an enigmatic power couple - an invitation to their house is basically a fast pass to the cool kid's table. Rosemary Hoyt, a young actress vacationing with her mother in the French Riviera, is invited into their world, and eagerly tries to make her way into Dick's heart. Underneath the glamour is a whole big mess of interpersonal drama and mental health issues that made for a deeply engaging, if unevenly paced, novel.

The pacing was slow at first - a point F. Scott recognized when providing advertising suggestions to his publisher - but picks up toward the end of the first part and doesn't slow down. Like "Gatsby," "Tender is the Night" is full of beautiful prose, even for a character-and-plot reader like myself. It shares broad themes with "Gatsby," as well: marriages in flux, class struggle, and disillusionment. Though longer, and admittedly less of a tight read, "Tender is the Night" felt more personal than I remember "Gatsby" being.

I read the edition with the cover at the top of this post, and the accompanying introduction from Charles Scribner III was what every introduction should be. It avoided spoilers, providing only a history of the novel itself. Knowing that F. Scott spent nine years writing it while his wife, Zelda, was in and out of mental institutions affected how I understood the book. Maybe it was the introduction setting me up for it, but I can see where F. Scott poured his experience and his complicated love for his wife into this novel. I've added Zelda's only novel, "Save Me the Waltz," to my TBR after it was mentioned in the introduction as a counter-perspective to F. Scott's view of their marriage presented here.

F. Scott's portrait of the Divers' marriage is beautifully written, capturing the complexity, intensity, and adoration between these troubled characters. I think I'll re-visit this novel periodically, and look forward to learning more about Zelda, F. Scott, and their story and history beyond Jazz Age legends.

Verdict: Affirmed, for fans of the jazz age, marital dramas, and beautiful writing. And obviously, any fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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