For many years I have been torn on whether I should consider Tender is the Night or The Great Gatsby as my all-time favorite novel. Both were written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and both are masterpieces of the English language.
As I come from a fresh re-reading of Tender, I am definitely leaning toward it taking the place of my beloved Gatsby. I almost feel dirty for even considering cheating on what has been my favorite novel for over 20 years…but Tender is the Night does something to me that Gatsby, nor any other book (fiction or nonfiction) can do…
It causes deep physical and emotional reactions in me that last for days after I have finished reading it.
It is that well-written. That touching.
I know I am not the only one who reacts this way to this novel…am I? Please tell me I am not alone here. I feel a bit crazy for even admitting this on my blog for the internet to see.
I think the reason I am so emotionally attached to it is because it was, in a sense, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s autobiography. It is well-known by now that the main characters Dick and Nicole Diver are Scott and his wife Zelda. And their fellow expatriates in Europe, such as Ernest Hemingway, were outraged at how he so carelessly used their lives in his fictional work.
Indeed, he made it obvious who the characters were based on, and that made people angry.
Tender was controversial in its day for reasons other than thinly veiling real people. The harsh language, graphic details of sexual acts, alcohol and drug abuse completely scandalized virginal eyes across America in the early 1930s.
Consider the following excerpt from the novel. And this is just describing a kiss between Dick and Nicole before they were married:
“The voice fell low, sank into her breast and stretched the tight bodice over her heart as she came up close. He felt the young lips, her body sighing in relief against the arm growing stronger to hold her. There were now no more plans than if Dick had arbitrarily made some indissoluble mixture, with atoms joined and inseparable; you could throw it all out but never again could they fit back into atomic scale. As he held her and tasted her, and as she curved in further and further toward him, with her own lips, new to herself, drowned and engulfed in love, yet solaced and triumphant, he was thankful to have an existence at all, if only as a reflection in her wet eyes.”
Since that is just describing one kiss, you can only imagine how Fitzgerald describes what went on between Dick and the young starlet Rosemary Hoyt. (They did A LOT more than kiss. I’ll leave it at that.)
Tender is the Night describes everything in such great detail that you feel you are actually there experiencing it and not merely reading it.
F. Scotty Fitz finally mastered dialogue and how to put a real, raw human emotion into a full-length novel with this one. Even I, probably the biggest Fitzgerald fan in the world, will admit that dialogue was not one of his strong suits in his three earlier novels.
The way the story unfolds (it’s told in flashback and present) will rip your heart out, violently shove it back into your chest, and then rip it out all over again. It tortures you, repeatedly, but you love it anyway. It’s like the toxic yet sexy lover that you know will make you an emotional wreck, but you can’t let go.
Now I am turning this over to you, darlings. You can tell me how bat crap freekin’ insane I am for everything I have written here.
“Holy cow, Angie, I didn’t experience any of this at all when I read it.”
Go on. It’s not like I haven’t heard that before…
If you’ve read it, what did you think about it? (Please agree with me…lol) If you haven’t read it, it obviously comes highly suggested. Tell me what you think by commenting below!