Book Review: Tender is the Night
F. Scott Fitzgerald remains one of the most revered American authors. Naturally, in my attempt to read as many American classics in 2018, Fitzergerald shot up the list. His books are short. They revolve around socialite degradation in the jazz age. They are stimulant and alcohol inspired. What's not to like?
In an effort to reserve This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby for a later time, I decided on Tender is the Night as my introduction. Published in its entirety in 1934, it would be Fitzgerald's final complete novel. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings described the book as "disturbing, bitter, and beautiful." Fitzgerald, himself, in a scrawled note to a friend said, "Gatsby was a tour de force but this is a confession of faith."
The story revolves around the chaotic history and life of Dick and Nicole Diver and the debutante Rosemary Hoyt. Thematically, the book sticks close to what Fitzgerald apparently knew from personal experience—young love, disillusioned lust, alcoholism, and mental instability. The characters revolving in the world of the Divers and Miss Hoyt help serve as foils to the progressive trainwreck of the main characters. It is beautiful and tragic.
Though potentially dated in its pacing, I thoroughly enjoyed the intelligent descriptions and introspective characters of Fitzgerald. Far from setting forward perfect or prefect-ing type characters, Tender is the Night offers a somber look at the Diver's rocky relationship through mental illness and dependency. There are a realness and sincerity to them that is cringe-inducing. There is a naivety to the young actress (Rosemary Hoyt) that manifests itself patiently in growing disinterest in the love of her mother and first serious crush.
Using the psychiatrist Dick Diver as a foil to much of his own turmoil, Fitzgerald injects his own struggles with alcohol, producing books, lust for young actresses, and conflict with a lover suffering from mental illness. The sadness can only be understood in light of the beginning. Once the physical presence that stopped the novel in its tracks, Diver retires from the story in anonymity:
"In any case he is almost certainly in that section of the country, in one town or another." (315)
Narrated by Therese Plummer, the audiobook of Tender is the Night was fantastic. Plummer is an outstanding reader with wonderful pacing and sufficient accents.
In particular, I found that she added character depth to Rosemary Hoyt and Nichole Diver in a manner that emphasized the highs and lows of both women. With separate portions of the serialized novel emphasizing both women, Plummer's reading helps grasp both women's dynamic love and eventual disinterest in Dick Diver. I dare say, the book could only be best read by a female character lending strength to these women as they interact with Dr. Dick Diver.
In conclusion, Tender is the Night reads like an Americanized Greek tragedy. Fitzgerald's brilliance and own struggles shine throughout. There are perfect sentences crowded among a paragraph of clutter. But in the end, the imperfections only serve to drive the story deeper. I wish I had read this novel twenty years ago.
Favorite Sentence: "But the space between heaven and earth had cooled his mind" (38)