Monday, January 4, 2016

December 2015's Book: Tender Is the Night

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Literature (1934 - 302 pp.)

Tender Is the Night is F. Scott Fitzgerald's last novel in his lifetime. It came nine years after The Great Gatsby, which I love in all its forms. Tender Is the Night lacked the commercial acclaim of its predecessor, which is saying something, and of his first novel (1920's This Side of Paradise). It also, unlike those novels, discussed the emigré community of Americans in Paris in the 1920s. Its setting, throughout the mid-1920s, is awkward in its being set in the past yet not far enough in the past to be a period piece. Usually, that would not matter. In this case, it might.

The very short synopsis is this: Dick and his wife Nicole are Americans living in Paris, and who also spend considerable time on the French Riviera and in Switzerland. Rosemary Hoyt is a young American actress who falls in love with Dick. You can imagine what ensues. Well, the duel among two of Dick's acquaintances surprised me.

The unfettered wealth Fitzgerald describes made sense in 1925, when The Great Gatsby was released to the Roaring Twenties. It is less likely Americans wanted to hear tales of people so rich they seemingly abandon their cars out of apathy (288) in light of the events of 1934. Although Tender Is the Night resembles an 18th-century travelogue in its tendency to zip its characters around Western Europe, Fitzgerald often fails to give much reason why the characters need to visit so many different exotic locales.

A book like Tender Is the Night is, for all its taglines about its settings, light on setting description. At no point is the reader dragged into truly travelogue-style narrative, with, say, a three-page description of the Eiffel Tower. The result is that Tender Is the Night is made by its characters and plot. Unfortunately, although the characters and plot make sense, they never move me. Rosemary is so self-absorbed she laughs when a man is almost shot (55) and takes considerable time to realize she does not miss her mother, which alarms her more than the aforementioned gunfire. (81)

Dick takes up a significant portion of the book, including the flashbacks that make up some of the book's most interesting material. These consist of letters between Dick and Nicole that are divided into numbered sections, the only time in Tender Is the Night that Fitzgerald experiments with format. (125-129) The fight scene represents the one time I found myself hooked while reading. (224) Dick is ultimately flat enough, though, that the final chapter elucidating the details of his later life holds little interest. It is as though Fitzgerald, having finished the story he wanted to write, wanted to give the reader as much information about Dick as possible without explaining to the reader why. (302) That said, I always appreciate a good reference to Batavia, NY, where I was once stopped by immigration officials.

Although I wanted more,*** I knew from critical consensus what to expect. There is some beautiful writing here, such as the barbs between Dick and Nicole late in the book. (265) It just feels, at times, like Fitzgerald had a situation in mind, not much to say about the situation, and only the use of a few shockingly violent events to move the story.

Educational Content: 6
Ease of Reading: 7

*The title is Fitzgerald quoting Keats. That advertises all sorts of literariness.

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