So, I was having a case of a book hangover after reading Meagan Spooner's new book Hunted, a Beauty and the Beast retelling that I really enjoyed. (I could seriously go read it again right now, even though I just read it not even a week ago; timelines with reviews are a bit off on the blog due to advance scheduling.) The cure for a book hangover is, for me, to typically go somewhere completely different so I'm not comparing what I'm reading now with what I was reading then, at least not to such a degree. So I checked out Krakatoa, and then I picked up Tender is the Night, which I've had on my bookshelf for a while and hadn't gotten to yet.
Before this, the only Fitzgerald book I'd read was The Great Gatsby. I didn't really like that the first time I read it through, but then I read a nonfiction book about the Fitzgeralds called Careless People and found it really enhanced the reading experience--and I think that having previously read Careless People helped with the experience here, as well, because it's so easy to see where Fitzgerald drew in his and his wife Zelda's own lives to flavor the book. The vacations on the Riviera, the small and exclusive groups of people being "made over" by the main people in the group, the travelling, the partying, and the angst underlying it all... It's all so evident both in the fiction and in the reality that underlies it.
The story here initially seems to follow Rosemary, a young woman who's made her break as an actress and is taking a vacation on the Riviera with her mother when she meets Dick and Nicole Diver. She promptly falls in love, or at least states that she does, with Dick, and spends the rest of her vacation going after him. He eventually gives in, somewhat--and then Rosemary vanishes from the picture and it becomes evident that Dick is actually the main character, not Nicole. The book goes into his backstory, catches back up with the present, and then proceeds, all along showing that Dick is a terrible person. He marries Nicole, who was a patient in a mental hospital where he was working, and then proceeds to continue fooling around to various degrees with every pretty young woman who comes his way, most of whom are also his patients in some way or another. This is both extremely unethical and extremely immoral because not only are they his patients but he is already married. And while Rosemary should have known better than to go after a married man when she was eighteen, and definitely should have known better by the time she was twenty-two, there's absolutely no excuse for Dick, who was a full adult in control of his full mental capacities for the duration of the story.
But then, Fitzgerald likes writing about terrible people. The Buchanans in Gatsby, for example; it all seems to come back to some circle of how wealth just leads to decadence and its accompanying decay, possibly in another parallel to the Fitzgeralds' own lives. Watching these people spiral together and then apart is almost wince-worthy, because you can just see the disaster coming. All of the drama is also exhausting. But Fitzgerald is a modern classic for a reason, and it shows through. He has a clean and simple style of writing, one that I think contributed to my dislike of Gatsby when I read it in school because I simply wasn't old enough or wide-read enough to really appreciate the style. But now I am, and I can definitely see the merit here. While I didn't like the characters here, the book was still written in such a way that not liking them was the point and was enjoyable. I think some other books aim to accomplish this, but don't. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, managed it perfectly, and that's something that's something to be remarked upon.
4 stars out of 5.