I almost didn’t make it through Tender is the Night. I think I only pushed through the god-awful first act because the book is considered Fitzgerald’s best, and I wanted to be able to castigate the damn thing from a position of authority. Happily, the thing got much better after that insufferable kickoff.
I have this problem with Fitzgerald. Notice I did not say I have a problem with his writing -although I suppose I do, by extension. But his particular obsessions and carnivorous social aspirations seem to have left the man with an alarming lack of self-awareness, which he is able to overcome only by the virtue of being a really fucking good writer. As I reader, this entire situation is incredibly frustrating -I keep getting distracted by Fitzgerald’s desperate inner child, hungering for acceptance and recognition as it tugs on my sleeve and makes it impossible for me to appreciate more than a few of those wonderful sentences at a time.
Part of this has to do with the stakes -for the majority of these two novels, there isn’t anything at risk. None of this shit matters. I have no issue with reading about bad people behaving badly, (see my list of favorite books) but I have no interest if their bad behavior is completely meaningless, absent of consequence and lasting effect. There is only the most petty kind of drama in that, and both of these books require a lot of slogging to get to anything like an action of consequence (and I’m not using “consequence” in its moral sense here, but in the sense of one thing leading to some other result).
But I noticed how much more I preferred the act of reading Gatsby compared to Tender is the Night, which I found surprising, since I can subjectively say that Tender is the Night is the superior book. I think the act of re-reading a book flawed in this particular way is a bit more redeeming, because all of the previously unimportant interactions -while still completely without interesting consequence- provide a more codified system of behavior that inform those later moments of genuine consequence. Maybe people with my particular sensitivities just aren’t going to enjoy Fitzgerald on the first read. Since there are a few of his books out there that I have yet to read, I’m sure I will be able to test this hypothesis.
Recommendation: Read one. While Gatsby is more culturally relevant, Tender is the Night is a better book -if you can hang in through the first act. (Also, all of the covers for Gatsby look like shit for some reason. I have literally never seen a cover of The Great Gatsby I did not immediately dislike. If any of you are familiar with one, please show it to me.)