Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It took me longer than I anticipated to finish F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night, but I finally did and maybe now I can get the Jackson Browne song of the same name out of my head.

Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night is Fitzgerald’s fourth and final completed novel and according to Maureen Corrigan in her book So We Read On, it has a passionate but small following of fans that consider it to be his best even though it typically gets overshadowed by The Great Gatsby. 

The novel’s central couple consist of psychiatrist Dick Diver and his wife, Nicole, who suffers from mental illness. Knowing the types of couples Fitzgerald tends to include in his novels, in addition to the fact that Nicole had once been Dick’s patient, it’s not surprising that this relationship is troubled.

It’s been said that this novel is considered “feminist” so, while reading, I was looking out for what might make one think that. There is gut-wrenching abuse suffered by Nicole as a child and then, her husband, fully aware of this abuse, occasionally wanders off to follow much younger girls. Does this make the novel feminist? I don’t know but it makes it depressing – until the end. And while the end may not be happy in the traditional sense, it was a breath of fresh air for Nicole. Maybe this is the feminist aspect of the novel? In fact, here is what I would consider one of the more hopeful endings from one of these post-World War I, American authors that suffers from disillusionment. I found myself very happy for Nicole.

And of course, we have Fitzgerald’s beautiful and ornate writing which doesn’t get much better than in this novel. I could choose from any number of paragraphs but here are two that give one a feel for the Divers:

She smiled at him, making sure that the smile gathered up everything inside her and directed it toward him, making him a profound promise of herself for so little, for the beat of a response, the assurance of a complimentary vibration in him. Minute by minute the sweetness drained down into her out of the willow trees, out of the dark world.

Many times he had tried unsuccessfully to let go his hold on her. They had many fine times together, fine talks between the loves of the white nights, but always when he turned away from her into himself he left her holding Nothing in her hands and staring at it, calling it many names, but knowing it was only the hope that he would come back soon.

Fitzgerald

Which is better? Tender is the Night or The Great Gatsby? From a literary perspective, I am sure that many could make a claim for either one. From my personal taste, I’ll go with Gatsby. While Tender may have the complex characters and an actual happy ending for one of them, I think the simplicity of Gatsby’s story makes it more universal.

 

 

 

 

 

Silas House: Total Immersion (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 33)

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Still she wants this. She wants a change, and in a town like Black Banks, this is the most you can change. There are only two kinds of people here: sinners and Christians. She wants to try a new crowd.

Referred to as “The Whore of Black Banks” by town’s people (and her daughter), Liz goes to church and gets saved in Silas House’s short story “Total Immersion”. Much of the story involves Liz telling her work friends who hang out at The Spot, the local honky-tonk, and Bruce, the married man with whom she is having an affair. The reactions range from disbelief to ridicule.

Degrees of Elevation

The story is best when Liz is sincerely contemplating her spiritual life – when she is actually honest with herself about her doubts about this whole church thing. House never makes fun of Liz’s ideas or decisions even while he presents them as something out of the ordinary, something unexpected.

The story ends with Liz’s baptism – hopeful but realistic. Well, I suppose this could be a spoiler alert, but it ends with part of a baptism. The pastor takes her under the water but the story ends before he brings her back up. Now, I believe there is every evidence that the pastor eventually (that may not be the right word) brings her back up. House just curiously chooses to end the story before he does:

She feels like she could lie there in that water from now on. She can hear the river moving beside her ears, like time, like death, like every bad thing she has done her whole life. She can taste the water (mossy, sandy- like the underside of a rock way up in the shadiest part of the mountains) that seeps in between the pastor’s big fingers.

She is under so long that she has time to open her eyes. And all she can see is light, slanting down onto the river’s surface.

Silas House is a well-known Kentucky author and often makes appearances at my local library. I’ve never had the chance to hear him speak and this is the first of his work that I’ve read. Based on this story, I would be interested in reading more of his work. This story is included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. I read it when I selected the Ten of Clubs for Week 33 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Steven Millhauser: Eisenheim The Illusionist (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 32)

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Now, it is well known among magicians and mediums that a canvas of unbleached muslin may be painted with chemical solutions that appear invisible when dry; if sulphate of iron is used for blue, nitrate of bismuth for yellow, and copper sulphate for brown, the picture will appear if sprayed with a weak solution of prussiate of potash.

Only Steven Millhauser’s detailed wordsmithing could make the technical behind-the-scenes aspect of a magic trick seem, well, magical. Blending the natural and the supernatural is not uncommon in fiction but Millhauser does it exceptionally well in “Eisenheim the Illusionist” and he tops it all off by making it character driven:

Eisenheim’s nature was like that: he proceeded slowly and cautiously, step by step, and then as if he had earned the right to be daring, he would take a sudden leap.

As Eisenheim’s career and fame grow, the reader can’t help but ask the question from where are his increasingly dramatic illusions originating. Millhauser plants those seeds in the reader’s mind when he explains some of the tricks at the beginning of the illusionist’s career. There is always that thought that something natural is explaining what looks supernatural – even when the reader stops getting the explanations, even when the possibility of “higher powers” is introduced. At the same time, though, whether Eisenheim is simply an expert trickster or something more, Millhauser never brushes away the mystery:

All agreed that is was a sign of the times; and as precise memories faded, and the everyday world of coffee cups, doctors’ visits, and war rumors returned, a secret relief penetrated the souls of the faithful, who knew that the Master had passed safely out of the crumbling order of history into the indestructible realm of mystery and dream.

barnum

“Eisenheim the Illusionist” is included in Steven Millhauser’s collection The Barnum Museum. I read it when I selected my third Wild Card, the Two of Hearts, for Week 32 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.