Hollywood darling, Rosemary Hoyt, meets the Divers, Dick and Nicole, and their clique on the French Riviera. Rosemary is smitten with Dick and mesmerized by the beautiful, aloof and sophisticated Nicole. She frolics on the beach with them all summer long.
They’re rich and mean to anyone not as cool. Even Dick acts like a jerk when he plans parties for people who hate each other and knows will fight. Just because. It’s the bees-knees until there’s some drama and the Cool Kids break apart at the end of Book 1.
A point of view switch and a flashback later, brings the reader to the days when Dick meets Nicole. It’s not all gin and Charlestons. Nicole is a mental patient at an institution where Dick is a psychiatrist. Somehow or another, Dick and Nicole get married. That wouldn’t be kosher these days but no one is all that outraged. Nicole’s sister, Baby, is a bit suspicious because Nicole has $$$ but it’s okay because Nicole needs a 24 hour doctor and what a better way to get one than marry one! Dick is offended by the implication that he’s a gold digger. He’s all, “I’ll show you! I’m a genius and gonna write a book that would blow the beard off Freud.” Baby is all, skepical eyebrow raise, “Uh-huh. We’ll see.”
Dick finds that taking care of Nicole is not an easy task. She has her moments, also that book just isn’t going to write itself. Dick becomes a bigger dick as the years go by and loses his patented charm and all his old friends start to hate him.
Apparently, it took Fitzgerald forever to write Tender Is the Night. He kept changing things and adding events that were happening in his life because if you haven’t gotten it by now this is a thinly veiled Story of My Marriage: F Scott and Zelda. Dick/F Scott’s career is ruined by his wife Nicole/Zelda’s mental illness. (Although when Fitzgerald started the book Dick and Nicole were based on Gerald and Sara Murphy. They were the It Couple at the time.) I’m not totally buying it. It would be tough going but Dick can’t dump all the blame on Nicole. He had opportunities others did not and he wouldn’t take them.
I could easily put down Tender Is the Night and forget about it for days. I felt like the story was going in circles: Bad Thing, then Boring Life Stuff; Bad Thing, then Boring Life Stuff.
It took me until the end to see that it wasn’t so much cyclical but what happens when you take the plug out of the sink- it all goes down the drain.
I’ve been looking up the Fitzgeralds online and finding some interesting stuff. F Scott would read Zelda’s diary and plunk bits of it into his books. She was not pleased. “Mr. Fitzgerald--I believe that is how he spells his name--seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.”-Zelda ["The Beautiful and the Damned," Tribune (New York, April 2, 1922)]. Makes me wonder what parts were true and what was fiction. In retaliation to his writing about their life, Zelda wrote Save Me the Waltz, her fictionalized account of their marriage. It was his turn to be pissed. Tender Is the Night was still a work in progress. (That’s what you get for sneaking into people’s diaries, Fitzy.) Unfortunately, Zelda has been largely forgotten as a writer, while F Scott is considered A Great American Novelist.
And I can see why. Although I prefer The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night did get to me. It’s like lasagne; it’s always better the next day after the flavours have melded together. I keep thinking about it. Maybe it’s gotten to me because it is so close to the author’s life. The structure is different from Gatsby and takes getting used to as well. It’s a tragic tale of a tragic couple in fiction and in real life.