Tender Is The Night / F. Scott Fitzgerald

This novel did not totally win me over, but I’m glad I persevered to finish it.  Set in the south of France in the decade after World War I, its side story about the American expatriate circle living there held little interest for me.  A cast of idle layabouts, they desperately try to keep boredom at bay with alcohol, sex, and constant movement from one hotspot to another in Europe.  Fortunately, this motley crew is kept mostly in the background, serving as a Greek chorus for the bittersweet romance between Dick Diver and Nicole.  He is a well-known psychiatrist with a magnetic personality.  She is beautiful, bewitching, and wealthy, but also mentally unstable.  Experimenting with narrative conventions of chronology and points of view, Fitzgerald presents the history of their ultimately tragic six-year marriage.  What makes this novel especially interesting is its autobiographical nature, mirroring Fitzgerald’s own relationship with Zelda Sayre.  It vividly portrays the disintegration of a marriage due to mental illness, alcoholism, and idleness.  The story is dark and smoldering, requiring slow, careful reading.  It is a poignant tale that shows behind the dazzle of the “Roaring Twenties,” a lack of purpose led to a sense of emptiness once youth was lost.  This was Fitzgerald’s fourth and final completed novel, and it is clearly the book he worked the hardest to write.  Its themes still resonate today, proving he was indeed an author for the ages.

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