I’m half-way done with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and although it does not possess the power of The Great Gatsby, it’s at least intriguing and gets more so with time. Published in 1933, this novel was given mixed reviews; many critics disapproved of its decadence since most people were struggling during the Great Depresssion.
Indeed, when the book opens, you know you’re dealing with the upper class. Set in 1925 in the south of France, 17-year-old upcoming American actress Rosemary Hoyt meets Dick and Nicole Diver, the quintessential “perfect” couple. Dick’s a psychologist in his 30s, and Rosemary falls in love with him immediately.
The Divers invite Rosemary to a party, where she confesses her feelings for him while he ignores her. Later, a woman named Violet McKisco stumbles upon Dick and Nicole in their bathroom, and she hints at something’s she seen when talking to the other guests, but she’s told to mind her own business.
Although Dick loves his wife–even planning an afternoon rendezvous with her in one scene–he still kisses and flirts with Rosemary. He doesn’t sleep with her due to her innocence, but Rosemary is determined to get her way regardless of the consequences.
During this whole love story, an alcoholic friends of theirs named Abe North is stirring up trouble. At one point he’s robbed and accuses a black man of the crime, starting a race riot. At the hotel where Rosemary’s staying, Abe is followed by Jules Peterson, a black shoemaker who testified for Abe. Dick and Rosemary shoo them off to have a romantic moment, but afterward Rosemary finds Jules shot dead in her room–killed by a man who was angered by his testimony.
Dick convinces the hotel manager to remove the body without questions so as to save Rosemary’s acting career, and when Nicole is heard screaming from the other room, Rosemary finally realizes what Violet McKisco saw at the party: Nicole’s mental instability.
If you know anything about Fitzgerald, you know that this novel is semi-autobiographical, since his own wife Zelda also suffered from mental instability during their marriage, remaining in institutions until she died. In fact, Fitzgerald has been critiqued by other expat writers like Hemingway for creating characters too similar to real people.
If that’s the case, I feel sorry for those real people, because most of the time they’re completely selfish. Rosemary doesn’t care about Nicole when she’s with Dick, instead compartmentalizing affair from marriage. None of the characters care about Jules, with Dick saying “It’s only some nigger scrap” while getting rid of his dead body. Blatant racism may be able to be chocked up the time period, but an overall disregard for human life or relationships is equally disturbing.
However, Fitzgerald is an exquisite writer, filling each scene with tons of foreshadowing and symbolism. He juxtaposes American and European, white and black, rich and poor, as well as the image of “perfect” on the outside while crumbling underneath.
Sometimes you don’t even recognize the meaning of certain elements, such as the title of Rosemary’s debut film “Daddy’s Girl,” until more info is revealed (It alludes to Rosemary’s relationship with Dick, but also Nicole’s with her own father–which will be discussed in Book Two).
I’ll save my rating until I’ve reviewed the whole novel, but right now I’d say the story’s above average but with definite room for improvement. I’m sure Fitzgerald himself wondered how he’d top The Great Gatsby, so even though he failed to surpass it in my opinion, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to read more of his profound work.
Favorite Quote of Book One: “If you’re in love it ought to make you happy.”