I looked forward to Tender is the Night as a welcome reprieve from my double duty with Henry James. While I must say I did enjoy it, I believe The Great Gatsby was a better written novel. Apparently Mr. Fitzgerald believed otherwise and was quite proud of this work.
What he did capture, quite magnificently, was what the life of a caregiver to the mentally ill truly looks like. His own personal experience with his wife, Zelda, were surely the impetus and for that he very bravely portrayed it with utter realism.
Dick Diver is a young American psychologist who comes to treat Nicole Warren, suffering breakdowns as a result of a sexual assault by her widowed father. He is asked by her sister to find a psychologist who might serve as both doctor and husband, as he is not considered worthy. Of course, the two fall in love and marry.
Nicole is a Chicago heiress who falls for Dick and is unaware of her family’s request. She and Dick have two children; Lanier and Topsy (hey, it was the ’20’s) who Nicole doesn’t seem to care for, physically or emotionally which keeps Dick quite busy working, caring for the children and keeping his wife out of trouble.
Of course there has to be an interloper, and she is Rosemary Hoyt, an American actress educated in Paris who catches Dick’s eye. She flirts herself into his life and they eventually consummate their relationship after several years. The attraction is unclear as Nicole is not much older and apparently quite attractive so it is perhaps Roesmary’s mental acuity that is the true seduction.
There were some issues that were either unclear or unresolved that resulted in my overall rating of the book. One unclear scene involves an acquaintance finding Nicole in a bathroom who then runs out, but cannot state what it is she saw. It is mentioned again later in the book, but I never really got a sense of what had actually occurred. Nicole’s counter affair and Dick’s downward alcohol infused spiral seemed to come on much too fast and felt like a rushed conclusion missing true closure.
The truth was that for some months he had been going through that partitioning of what one no longer believes. In the dead white hours in Zurich staring into a stranger’s pantry across the upshine of a streetlamp, he used to think that he wanted to be good, he wanted to be kind, he wanted to be brave and wise, but it was all pretty difficult. He wanted to be loved too, if he could fit it in.
From his father Dick had learned the somewhat conscious good manners of the young Southerner coming north after the Civil War. Often he used them and just as often he despised them because they were not a protest against how unpleasant selfishness was but against how unpleasant it looked.
One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it.
But women marry all their husbands’ talents and naturally, afterwards, are not so impressed with them as they may keep up the pretense of being…
Mary’s glance flickered fractionally over the Divers, one of those unfortunate glances that indicate to the glanced-upon that they have been observed but are to be overlooked…
I am sure speaking with Mr. Fitzgerald would be quite interesting and I’d be sure to keep my opinions to myself so as not to offend and would steer the conversation to his life in New York and Paris.
My rating for Tender is the Night is a 7 out of 10.
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