Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Let no man put asunder

Current book: Tender Is the Night
Pages read: 281 - 349 (end)

Ok, I'm going to go ahead and admit, grudgingly, that Fitzgerald surprised me with the end of this one. I thought it was just going to be this interminable thing where Dick cheated on Nicole with Rosemary and their relationship went on and on in a farcical approximation of marriage, but, instead, our schizophrenic heroine pulled herself out of victim-hood and left the bastard! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Weirdly, we sort of never get any resolution on Nicole's father. We, in fact, have no idea what happens to him after he takes off for distant lands all ridden with cirrhosis. Whatever. Nicole and Dick go back to the clinic in Zurich for a while, where things go rapidly downhill. It becomes apparent that Dick is developing alcoholic tendencies. When his partner at the clinic confronts him with this fact, he denies it, but both men agree it's best if Dick takes a leave of absence. (And that's the last we hear of the clinic in Zurich.) He and Nicole head south to the beach where we first met them, stopping at several cities on the way to alienate all their friends and acquaintances. (Well, I should be clearer - Dick is the one who alienates their friends, since he can't abstain from drinking and has a loose tongue when he's inebriated.)

When they arrive at the beach, they encounter both Rosemary and Tommy Barban. Nicole and Rosemary immediately start fighting, since it's clear that Dick is still infatuated with Rosemary, and the visit ends with Dick taking off for a few days to clear his head. (And take Rosemary up to Grenoble, or some other place, which I can't remember the name of and don't want to page through the book to find out, because it's not important. It's not important enough to have spent this whole parenthetical on, either, but it's a little late to consider that particular issue.) While he's gone, Nicole calls Tommy up and invites him over, and the two profess their love for one another, which has been long-standing, and then sleep together. Upon Dick's return, Tommy demands that Nicole tell Dick the truth and ask for a divorce. She does, and he agrees to it, more, it seems, from fatigue and laziness than anything else. Nicole marries Tommy and lives happily with him and the children, and Dick fades into obscurity in rural New York. (Are you shocked? I was.)

This is all crazy and unexpected, and I don't know what to make of it. First, there's the fact that I'd pegged Rosemary as the protagonist of this novel from the beginning, which was clearly incorrect, and even now I'm not sure who I'd give the title to. Fitzgerald gives us the most backstory about Dick, but Nicole ends up being the most heroic, while Rosemary starts strong and then sort of just fades into the other woman role. Add to that the portrait of schizophrenia Fitzgerald paints, which seems pretty accurate, and the fact that Nicole eventually transcends her dependent relationship and her mental illness to stake out some happiness for herself, and I'm actually shocked as hell. Fitzgerald almost seems to be celebrating divorce as a means of escape from an ailing marriage, which isn't something I would have expected of him.

I don't know what to conclude. Clearly, the dissipated life of wanderers of the Continent doesn't do anyone much good, but the real message seems to be that predatory relationships should be avoided at all costs, and, if they've been established, one will, hopefully, be brave and strong enough to throw them off. Also, there's the idea that mental illness is both human and conquerable, which is fairly progressive and enlightened, for the time period. Dick's alcoholism and descent into small-town obscurity leave me with little idea of their point, other than that they might represent his just desserts for choosing to marry a woman with whom his relationship was inappropriate and almost rapacious. And so are the righteous rewarded and the wicked punished, I guess.

I still don't think it's worthy of the title of one of the best 100, but I'm more impressed with Fitzgerald than I've been previously. Since I've now read every novel he published, it's a good thing he improved my opinion of him before it was too late. 'Cause I'm sure he was really invested.

1 comment:

  1. While I am thrilled for the character of Nicole, I have to say that I don't think schizophrenia is recoverable from even if you divest yourself of the inappropriate ball-and-chain that you are currently dragging. But maybe back in the day the current thinking was different.



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