Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The new Woody Allen movie is a lot of fun! Campy? Yes. Less than profound? Sure. But fun! One thing that I would have taken great issue with, had I taken the experience of watching ‘Midnight in Paris’ a little more seriously than I had, was the dimensionality of the historical figures. He had Hemingway speaking in Hemingway sentences. I have never spoken with Hemingway and can’t disavow that he didn’t speak in terse, poetic proclamations, but I do have horse sense and people don’t talk like that. They just don’t. And Dali, what a cartoon character! Even the minor cameos— Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, Henri Matisse— were total caricatures. This is, however, fine, because the protagonist was himself a one-dimensional rendering of the film’s director. Anyway, it didn’t dampen my experience.
There were a couple characters that were expertly portrayed, among them Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein and Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald. They felt like real people, unlike, say, everyone else in the movie. It was enough to get me to read this book, which I uncovered in my parents’ basement, alongside, yes, some Hemingway and Faulkner. My only prior experience with Fitzgerald came in high school, when I was forced to tramp through The Great Gatsby. I understand now that it may be genuine genius, but at the time I was too pissed off by how much school totally sucks.
Perhaps I remembered wrong, because Fitzgerald’s prose is intoxicating! Everything is all ‘agates’ this and ‘cornelians’ that. It’s strenuous, and it gets tiring after three hundred pages, but it’s very rewarding to unlock. I feel like I accomplished something by reading this book. What compels me most about Tender is the Night is its sheer aimlessness. The plot is so fluid and meandering that its often hard to tell who the main character is (it’s Dick, right?). I presume that Fitzgerald intended to capture the wandering sensation of being among the American expatriates in Europe during the 20s, the endless parties and spas and love affairs and minor frustrations. It comes off as sloppy, and, honestly, it is a little sloppy. But it’s very good and I don’t mind it.
Bonus material: It’s worth noting that, according to wikipedia, Fitzgerald wrote this novel while his wife, Zelda was hospitalized for schizophrenia in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. Supposedly he worked on it from his estate in Towson, which is where I went to high school and where I would hang out and where I learned most of the tough lessons about life that teens learn in places like Towson. It’s also worth noting because, aside from this novel, very few people of cultural import ever come out of Towson besides John Waters, Michael Phelps, and Elaine Benes.