Fitzgerald’s night was not so tender

by Rachel Baker on October 8, 2007

Disclaimer: I reserve the right to change my opinion after I read more biographical information on the man’s life :)

tender is the nightAll month, I have been thinking about Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I can’t for the life of me figure out why I am still reading his work. I really feel very dissatisfied after I finish a novel of his; but I keep reading them trying to figure out what it is that makes him a “Great American Author.”

He wrote this particular novel over 10 years. During this decade, he and Zelda bashed around Europe visiting with friends and authoring novels, which was the “thing to do” during that time period. Towards the end of this period, Zelda’s mental health began to deteriorate.

Book One is the story of those romps around Europe and is said to be about a couple the Fitzgerald’s knew and respected. I think Book Two is more of an autobiography about he and Zelda during the decline of her health, though it is extremely one-dimensional. Its almost as if he is on the outside looking in on his life, but doesn’t have the intimacy with the characters to really tell their story. The first “book” is just a story about the frivolities of the wealthy in Europe. Its a time period piece and should not have been included with book two. Both of these sections could have been successful as seperate novellas published at different times under different circumstances. Though its fiction, I think this, and his other stories, is probably closer to the truth of the Fitzgeralds’ life than is general knowledge. All of his books are written using different names but the characters seem to have the exact same personalities and (lack of) depth to them, which leads me to believe each character is based off people he knows superficially, but the stories are of his and Zelda’s life.

Elaborate secondary character development seems to be an important device for Fitzgerald. In the first book/section, Fitzgerald introduces characters into the story that should be kept one dimensional, but are more elaborate than the main characters. In the second book/section, the characters introduced to the reader in the first section rarely appear until the end of the story when it seems that Fitzgerald tries to piecemeal the ending together just to get it finished.

Though sometimes there is a bit too much blatant description, Fitzgerald’s settings could be compared to a Renoir or a Monet painting. They are just abstract enough to leave a bit of the scenery to the imagination but if the reader pays enough attention, all the details are apparent and easily visualized. His novels are a great way to get away on a vacation to obscure places that most people will never frequent. Maybe this is the draw of his novels.

Like many of Fitzgerald’s novels, he seems to just end the story, never really giving the characters closure. He never really allows the reader to become intimate with any of his main characters, though it is easy to have a love affair with a minor character. As a result, in this particular book where the second half is mostly about the two main characters, the reader feels a lack of closure. My personal opinion is that he centered the story around the wrong character. There were too many unresolved plot lines with the more elaborate characters of the first section of the book, even though they made minor appearances and seemed to have some influence on the second half of the story.

What is it that keeps his novels on my shelf? Fitzgerald’s representation of the time is what keeps me curious – its the only reason I can think of. There is no depth to his main characters, the stories end unresolved, and they seem to be frivolous little books with no substance.

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