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Posted on Thursday, January 29th, 2009 at 4:24 pm. About Books.

Book #1 for 2009 – Tender is the Night

Last week, I finished reading Tender is the Night by: F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was supposed to have read it during my Fitzgerald and Hemingway seminar as an undergraduate, but I confess, I did not finish it at that time. After my professor from that course, Dr. Matthew Bruccoli, passed away last year, I vowed to revisit the book soon to pay proper respect both to Dr. Bruccoli and to Fitzgerald.

It is the story of Dick Diver, a physician (psychiatrist) with a bright future who falls in love with a beautiful, mentally ill, wealthy young woman. The book recounts ten years of marriage. I will not elaborate too much for fear of spoiling the story for those intending to read the book, but I came away from this one with mixed opinions. It is interesting how autobiographical Fitzgerald’s novels are, and based on when they are written, they each account for a specific period in his life. By the time Tender is the Night was being composed, his wife, Zelda, had declared herself as mentally ill, and thus this is a strong theme in the book. When he wrote The Beautiful and Damned in the early 1920’s, his main characters were non-stop partier/flapper types, as that is what he as experiencing at the time. The book was a worthwhile read to better understand Fitzgerald’s emotions and perspective about his own life.

However, the story itself began slowly, and really did not pick up speed until the second half to last one-third. There were so many friendships and outings with these friends enjoyed by the Divers, but in the end they seemed a bit irrelevant. Too many players were incorporated without having a specific function. Additionally, Dr. Diver’s alcoholism seemed to stem heavily from the burden of being married to a rich girl and from bearing the stress of her mental illness. It was as if Fitzgerald was attributing his own failures to his having married Zelda. While Zelda was a wild and difficult person with whom to share a life, Fitzgerald was a heavy drinker from very early in his life. Blame only goes so far.

I have heard some Fitzgerald scholars (including Dr. Bruccoli) mention that Tender is the Night was Fitzgerald’s true masterpiece, unrecognized as such by most and overshadowed by the popularity of The Great Gatsby. This is the third of the five Fitzgerald novels I have read (the others being Gatsby and The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western), and I do still believe The Great Gatsby is his masterpiece. It captures the essence of an era, the characters are all memorable and present with a purpose, and it begins and ends concisely, but not abruptly. While it defines the roaring 1920’s, it is also timeless.

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