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Old 02-19-2012, 11:51 AM   #1
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February Discussion: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (spoilers)

Let's discuss the February MobileRead Book Club selection, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. What did you think?

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Old 02-20-2012, 10:13 AM   #2
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I thought it was fabulous. I was was sucked in by the gorgeous writing from the first paragraph; the imagery placed me on the Riviera in 1925 and I continued to be beguiled by the subtle characterizations and the slow and indirect reveal of the story at the heart about the beautiful couple who so entranced Rosemary at her first glimpse of them.

It's both a very American and very Fitzgeraldian story, about disintegration and second acts and who gets to have them (Grant in Galena) and who doesn't, about people who use others, those who observe and those who act. Other themes include that of Amerians abroad, Americans and race, I could go on and on. I thought it was very dense, much more so than The Great Gatsby.

For all that it's supposed to be about Gerald and Sara Murphy, it's obvious that it's more about Scott and Zelda. Presumably Fitzgerald was engaging in projection/aspiration. I have New Critic tendencies that don't like to delve to deeply into these origins, but I'm mentioning it for those who find the shift from Murphy to Fitzgerald a little disconcerting and unjustified. I think it worked, myself.

IMO, the book wouldn't have been nearly so effective told chronologically. We would have missed the slow reveal and the outsider's perspective of the Divers, which can be expected to be flawed, unlike that of an omniscient narrator. What was Malcolm Cowley thinking?

I know a lot of posters didn't care for it at all and I'll be interested to read their reactions. I couldn't put it down.
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Old 02-20-2012, 11:15 AM   #3
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I completely agree about the beautiful writing. I too found myself right there, on the riviera!
I also agree that I probably would have enjoyed the chronological version less.

About a third, or maybe halfway through the book I realized I didn't like the characters at all and I really didn't care at all what happened to them. With so many book on my TBR and gave up on this one. So unfortunately not much more to add.
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Old 02-20-2012, 01:48 PM   #4
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I read it, and in general, I liked it.

I think I did have some problems with the writing. I did appreciate how it was written, and enjoyed it for a short while, but to me, it got in the way of the story. I had problems following the story sometimes. For example, I didn't realize that someone was falsely accused/arrested (or the bearing to the story), or didn't appreciate (realize it was happening) Dick's fall into alcoholism and the part it played in the story line.

Reading the Wiki page afterward cleared up a lot of plot points.
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Old 02-21-2012, 01:49 AM   #5
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I can't read anyone's comments too deeply at the moment as I'm only 70% through. But here is what I will say at this stage of the book:

Completely agree about the writing. It's mesmerising. However, I did struggle sometimes understanding exactly what was being said.

Loved the ordering of Book I and Book II. I understand there is an edition that tells the story in chronological order. I couldn't think of anything worse. The transition from Book I to Book II was perfect for me.

I'm looking forward to getting this finished so I can read everyone's comments in more detail, but at the moment I don't even know what's going to happen and I don't want to spoil it.
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Old 02-22-2012, 04:44 PM   #6
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I'm still at the begining of the story but expect to keep reading. I just finished reading Rhys Bowen's latest "Her Spyness" mystery, called "Naughty In Nice", so its fun to read another book set in almost the same locale and in almost the same time period...of course Naughty in Nice was probably alot more fun to read!

What I appreciate most by reading Tender is the Night on my Nook Color is there have been many words that I've been able to do a quick look up to see what it means, or to ensure that the meaning I associate with word is the same (or different) from Fitzgeralds. What a handy tool! I'm highlighting them also, so I can go back and look at them again at a later point.
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Old 02-22-2012, 09:30 PM   #7
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I have very mixed thoughts about this book. There are lines, and more rarely, passages that are really nice. He has brought out a few characters who will live on for me, though I truly liked none of them. By the end of the book, I was ready to toss all of them into the nearest deep body of water!

For me, it doesn't really deserve the hype. Overall, I felt the writing was inconsistent and cried out for a really good editor.

And why in the romance month? That makes no sense to me. I'd nominate it for melodrama month. (If I nominated it at all, that is )
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Old 02-23-2012, 07:57 PM   #8
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It seemed like Part I was told from Rosemary's point of view and I think this provided a great start to the book. I think it allowed for a fairly dramatic transition at the end of Book I and the start of Book II where the focus shifted to Dick.

However, it looked like Book III was going to Nicole and it didn't seem to last long. We slid back to Dick.

I liked the story. I think in terms of discussing it I would focus on what how the relationship was constructed such that a pivotel event/person in the form of Rosemary could cause it to unravel over a period.

What do we think?

To me, I believe that Nicole was a mentally ill woman who is looking at making a person responsible for her recovery/wellness. When Dick arrived on the scene she built him into almost superhuman status and made him responsible for her sanity.

Doctor Dick was a person whose need of admirers/love made him susceptible to the beautiful woman pinning her hopes to him. He was wooed not by her personality, but by her admiration for him.

So I already have two major issues with their relationship. One is that Nicole's recovery does not come from within and she is effectively using Dick as a medicine for her problems and secondly that Dick is falling in love with admiration and dependence rather than with a person.

As the story progresses, I believe Rosemary lodged a subtle wedge between the two. It wasn't overt, but I believe Nicole has understood the implications of Rosemary to her relationship with Dick and I think that over the course of the next 5 years her impression of him changes subtly in line with his gradual decline. As a reader we don't really see it until the story is told from her point of view, but by then we're seeing the end of the relationship and Nicole's re-evaluation of Dick is rather severe by this stage.

For Dick, Rosemary seems to be the first beautiful woman who has broken through this illusion of perfection he's created around himself and Nicole. He doesn't pretend that Nicole is not mentally ill, but he pretends that his relationship with her is not flawed, a shell which has protected them both until Rosemary's excessive admiration and romantic notions finally penetrate. It's after this that he starts slowly falling apart; that he realises that Nicole's dependence does not sustain him the way he always thought it did.

Interestingly, I think to some extent that it is Dick's decline that provides the right environment for Nicole to actually break her depedendence on him and stage a somewhat self-funded recovery. This gradual transition for Nicole only exacerbates Dick's decline because he has been sustained for too long by admiration and it is gradually being withdrawn. By the end of the book, I think we see a largely healed Nicole who can now live life on her own terms. Unfortunately, I don't think we can say the same for Dick. He ends the book as a man travelling from place to place looking for enough sustenance from the admiration of women to continue.

I'm interested to know what other people think of this.
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Old 02-23-2012, 08:51 PM   #9
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The meeting of Nicole and Dick on the funicular was heavily symbolic of their relationship. Fitzgerald explicitly tells us that the funicular works by having the descending car pull the ascending car up. I thought that was beautifully done as foreshadowing of the course of Dick's and Nicole's marriage.

I only half agree with you, though, on the nature of their feelings for each other. I do think Nicole drained Dick, but I also think he really loved her--the reason he resisted Rosemary to the extent he did. Both Rosemary and her mother are quite pernicious, by the way. Anything for the experience and damn the cost to others.

Does anyone else think that Rosemary also had an early sexual experience, not incest per se, but that she was pimped out by her mother? And yet she, unlike Nicole, was able to move past it.
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Old 02-23-2012, 10:33 PM   #10
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The meeting of Nicole and Dick on the funicular was heavily symbolic of their relationship. Fitzgerald explicitly tells us that the funicular works by having the descending car pull the ascending car up. I thought that was beautifully done as foreshadowing of the course of Dick's and Nicole's marriage.

I only half agree with you, though, on the nature of their feelings for each other. I do think Nicole drained Dick, but I also think he really loved her--the reason he resisted Rosemary to the extent he did. Both Rosemary and her mother are quite pernicious, by the way. Anything for the experience and damn the cost to others.

Does anyone else think that Rosemary also had an early sexual experience, not incest per se, but that she was pimped out by her mother? And yet she, unlike Nicole, was able to move past it.
I absolutely agree with what you've said about Rosemary and her mother. And I love your link between the funicular and Dick and Nicole's relationship. I guess you'd say that Nicole's rise was sponsored by Dick's fall - that Nicole used him in a much deeper (although inadvertant way) than Rosemary and her mother used him.

I do think in some ways though that he was designed to be used. He was absolutely fed by admiration and fawning and it seemed to me that if you supplied enough of it, he responded (especially if you happened to be a pretty girl).

With Rosemary, I do think she was probably "pimped out" by her mother to get a start on her career. She was a product of her mother. I didn't spend too much time thinking about Rosemary though because I began to think of her as a handy instrument of destruction rather than a character in her own right.
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Old 02-24-2012, 02:58 PM   #11
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I finally finished the book, and here are some thoughts:

His use of innuendo was superb:

Her body hovered delicately on the last edge of childhood—she was almost eighteen, nearly complete, but the dew was still on her.

But sometimes after a big build-up, the lack of detail was anti-climatic:

Afterward they drove back to the hotel, all flushed and happy, in a sort of exalted quiet. She wanted to be taken and she was, and what had begun with a childish infatuation on a beach was accomplished at last.

Humor seemed to pop up in unexpected places:


"There are lots of people dead since and we'll all be dead soon," said Abe consolingly.

It's been said that you never know what's in a person until they're squeezed. If this is true, Dick Diver was a lemon. I was appalled by his racism.

Dick closed the door and stood thinking; he heard cautious steps in the corridor and then Nicole calling him by name. Opening the door he whispered: "Bring the couverture and top blanket from one of our beds—don't let any one see you." Then, noticing the strained look on her face, he added quickly, "Look here, you mustn't get upset over this—it's only some nigger scrap."
---
Dick's voice, shouting and screaming. "Are there any English? Are there any Americans? Are there any English? Are there any—oh, my God! You dirty Wops!"
---
Nicole reproved him when they were in their room alone. "Why so many highballs? Why did you use your word spic in front of him?"

"Excuse me, I meant smoke. The tongue slipped."

Even though its use was limited, I quickly grew tired of this "clever" device:

Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?

His descriptions of the tribulations of his patients were some of the most interesting sections of the book:

His most interesting case was in the main building. The patient was a woman of thirty who had been in the clinic six months; she was an American painter who had lived long in Paris. They had no very satisfactory history of her. A cousin had happened upon her all mad and gone and after an unsatisfactory interlude at one of the whoopee cures that fringed the city, dedicated largely to tourist victims of drug and drink, he had managed to get her to Switzerland.

...The woman thought a moment; her voice came up through her bandaged face afflicted with subterranean melodies: "I'm sharing the fate of the women of my time who challenged men to battle."

...But it's only by meeting the problems of every day, no matter how trifling and boring they seem, that you can make things drop back into place again. After that—perhaps you'll be able again to examine—–" He had slowed up to avoid the inevitable end of his thought: "—the frontiers of consciousness." The frontiers that artists must explore were not for her, ever. She was fine-spun, inbred—eventually she might find rest in some quiet mysticism. Exploration was for those with a measure of peasant blood, those with big thighs and thick ankles who could take punishment as they took bread and salt, on every inch of flesh and spirit. —Not for you, he almost said. It's too tough a game for you.

That put me in mind of one of my favorite (and very short) poems, "Counting the Mad" by Donald Justice. I'd love to post it here, but since I'm concerned about copyright issues, I'll simply direct you to this page of Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac, where it is reprinted with permission.

I have more to say, but this post is quickly becoming too long, so I'll save the rest for later.

Do check out that Donald Justice poem, though. I suspect you'll like it.
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Old 02-25-2012, 03:13 PM   #12
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I must confess to having been more fascinated by this book than I anticipated. It wasn't the easiest book to read, and I often found the transitions between scenes somewhat abrupt and confusing, but the psychological insights he offered into the characters was worth the effort. Naturally, I speak only of my own experience here, and again,naturally, I hardly agreed with all of the author's psychological views, but I felt some of his insights were absolutely revelatory and served to spur further thought, such as this one, speaking of Dick Diver's method of child-rearing:

They lived on the even tenor found advisable in the experience of old families of the Western world, brought up rather than brought out. Dick thought, for example, that nothing was more conducive to the development of observation than compulsory silence.

Not having encountered any serious studies to either confirm or refute this premise, it nonetheless seems to resonate with me intuitively as true. It also may serve, in part, to explain why women, as a group, are better observers than men. Asked to describe a scene, men will almost invariably miss details that women have picked up on. This may be innate; it may be part and parcel of how our different bodies are influenced by hormones and chemistry, but it may be largely social as well: from their youth, it is generally the boys who are encouraged to take the lead and to play hard, while girls who behave in such a boisterous manner are reminded that such behavior is "not ladylike". We have all heard that boys will be boys, but girls should be more reserved. Such a forced inhibition, it seems to me, no matter how subtle, must surely encourage in some measure the compensatory development of the powers of observation, just as the encouragement to be more physical and outgoing in their play must dampen in some measure, however slight—or at least not give as great an encouragement to—the development of verbal skills in boys.
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Old 02-25-2012, 03:46 PM   #13
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I have very mixed thoughts about this book. There are lines, and more rarely, passages that are really nice. He has brought out a few characters who will live on for me, though I truly liked none of them. By the end of the book, I was ready to toss all of them into the nearest deep body of water!
If anyone in the book deserved a happy ending, it was Nicole. She seemed to undergo a maturation process that went hand in hand with the progress in her mental stability. I don't know that there were any real villains, but Dick Diver's character was surely the most tragic. While Nicole overcame a lot of adversity and grew stronger in the process, Dick nearly totally disintegrated and became much smaller and petty by the book's end

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...And why in the romance month? That makes no sense to me. I'd nominate it for melodrama month. (If I nominated it at all, that is )
Are you saying we need a melodrama month?

Yes, despite all of the romantic entanglements, I wouldn't consider it a romance either. It seemed to belong firmly in the drama category.
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Old 02-26-2012, 03:33 AM   #14
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Yes, despite all of the romantic entanglements, I wouldn't consider it a romance either. It seemed to belong firmly in the drama category.
I didn't have a problem with the romance category. I though this was about the romance of Nicole and Dick. And I think romantic (rather than realistic) is how I would label the construction of their relationship.

But I agree that this is the darker side of romance - when a relationship disintegrates along with the people involved. Of course Nicole seemed to get gradually stronger, but Dick was a mess.
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Old 02-27-2012, 08:47 PM   #15
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Are you saying we need a melodrama month?

Uh, nope! We already had it
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