4. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald returns to a more personal novel in Tender is the Night. While This Side of Paradise is undoubtedly based on his college days and young single manhood, this novel combines elements of his nomadic life with Zelda and his Hollywood days, though more of the former. The two main characters, Dick and Nicole, seem more real than any of the characters in his other books. Daisy, for example, is sort of an idea that might have been similar to Nicole had she been more fleshed out. But Gatsby was deliberately a novel of ideals, and works in that context.
What I love most about Fitzgerald, is that the ending isn't what matters, especially in Tender is the Night. There of course, is an ending, a plot turning of sorts, but it doesn't give the full message about the novel. If you knew the entire plot of a Fitzgerald novel, without reading it, you would never be able to explain the significance of it.
The interplay of the relationship between Dick and Nicole is what makes this novel tick. Fitzgerald begins with an affair between Dick and a young Hollywood actress, Rosemary, but this loveplay feels stale and stagnant. When he backtracks to the story of how Dick and Nicole met, and their life together, it is easy to see why. Dick and Nicole are tied together, in a romantic, maybe terrible, way. Fitz uses a lot of his trademark creative wording, some of which works, some of which doesn't. He slips into dialects and thought consciousnesses, but on the whole I find them more bearable than modern stream-of-consciousness.
I can't decide if this novel represents a step up from Gatsby or not. I understand why it was not as well beloved, it is harder to relate to, with less symbols to grasp. It is more amorphous. But all of those are what makes Tender is the Night more real, more darkly human. I think Fitzgerald improves his realistic portrayals in each novel, while still managing to retain his unique style. Before I read The Last Tycoon, I think I want to go in for some of his short stories, and see how they're different from the novels.
About the Azar Nafisi talk, it was WONDERFUL. She didn't even get to reading from her book, she was too busy talking about the place of literature in the world, attitudes in the U.S. and Iran, women's rights, Islam, the new presidency, and so on. I really can't wait to read her next book, the one she's still working on, The Republic of the Imagination. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to reading about her sad literary childhood in Things I've Been Silent About.