Tender is the Night

book by F. Scott Fitzgerald

annotation by Tina Rubin

I wish I had discovered this book earlier, because its influence on me was profound. I had been eager to read it, not only because The Great Gatsby is a classic and I thoroughly enjoy the era in which Fitzgerald wrote, but because this story involved a sort of juxtaposition of qualities between the two main characters, which is a main element of my novel as well.

In Tender Is the Night, psychiatrist Dick Diver starts out strong and popular while his mental patient wife, Nicole, is weak and impressionable; as the story goes on he deteriorates and she grows strong. In my story, Tristan starts out unethical and Eve tries to keep him honest; in the end they switch roles.

To gain insight into the psychology behind these character arcs, I tried to identify the turning points for the characters in both stories. For Dick Diver, it was his early interest in eighteen-year-old Rosemary Hoyt, which went again his grain and caused him anguish (but didn’t prevent him from pursuing it); his doing so rocked his self-identity and was the catalyst for his excessive drinking. For Nicole, it seemed to be more a reaction to Dick’s gradual demise. In my novel, Eve is taken out of her familiar environment and thrust almost captive into Tristan’s realm of distorted reality, to the extent that she can no longer trust her own judgment. Tristan reacts to Eve’s gradual demise, like Nicole does to Dick’s. These are complex issues of human nature, so it was helpful to see how Fitzgerald accomplishes them.

The writing in this book awed me. It wasn’t just Fitzgerald’s way with words or the thought-provoking way he used the narrator to link the story to the broader universe, but also the unusual techniques he used to tell the story. Two stylistic elements in particular resonated with me. One—which I played with in one of my early chapters—was his use of the em dash with the character’s thoughts coming from somewhere outside the reality of the action and creating a double entendre. Fitzgerald first used it in the story on page 89, when Rosemary’s friend Collis Clay is telling Dick about Rosemary and a college boy making out on the train. Without identifying that these are Dick’s thoughts, Fitzgerald writes:

— Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?
— Please do. It’s too light in here.

He uses these same two lines in several more places throughout the book, and the reader immediately gets it. (I wasn’t quite that clever when I tried it, but it was fun.)

The other element that impressed me came in the second section of the novel, Book 2, when Fitzgerald goes back in time and recounts his meeting and courtship of Nicole the mental patient. Dick has just met Baby Warren, who holds the purse strings, and she disapproves of him as a husband for Nicole; she prefers to “buy” a Chicago doctor for her sister. Without bringing Nicole into the action, Fitzgerald then does four stream-of-consciousness pages from Nicole’s point of view, encapsulating the next few years of their marriage in diary-like entries.

This kind of avant-garde thinking really appeals to me. I spent quite some time pondering how Fitzgerald would write the pages of my novel.

One last point that made an impact on me was his use of the omniscient narrator, as was the trend back in the day, but it made me realize that I have much more to learn more about points of view. When I tried writing my first-person novel in the omniscient p.o.v. the way he did, my writing opened right up. Interesting, huh?


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