It's been a while since we'd dusted off our Writers Recommend series, dear reader, a fun excerise where we ask writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like an LSA -Literary Service Announcement.
This recommendation comes from Jon Sealy, publisher of Haywire Books. He'll be on tour this month in North and South Carolina promoting the release of his latest novel The Edge of America, a stunning thriller set in 1980's Miami about greed, power, and the limits of the american dream.
Jon Sealy Recommends Tender Is the Night
Nearly everybody reads—or is assigned to read—The Great Gatsby at some point, but I’ve always thought Tender Is the Night to be a better novel: longer, richer, deeper, more true to life.
The story is about Dick and Nicole Diver, a glamorous couple living in the south of France. Dick is a successful psychiatrist and, as we learn, Nicole was his patient. He’d fallen in love with her, but he also believed the marriage would help keep her stable—would save her. Of course that kind of marriage is in trouble, and very quickly in the novel Dick becomes infatuated with a young actress. The marriage falls apart: Dick slides into alcoholism and slinks away, hoping for a comeback, while Nicole has her own affair and eventually re-marries.
In some ways, the plot of Tender Is the Night is preposterous—there are murders, affairs, and even a duel at one point—but these rough edges make it feel more lifelike. Life, after all, doesn’t fit neatly into a tidy story.
What really makes it a great book, however, is the way Fitzgerald plumbs into the secret heart of the marriage. On the surface, Dick and Nicole seem like a happy couple, the envy of their friends, but there are cracks in the façade. In one early scene, they host a party in their house, and one of the house guests comes out startled by something she’s witnessed in the bathroom. We don’t find out what she saw, but it’s likely related to Nicole’s mental illness.
One of the other guests admonishes her, “It’s inadvisable to comment on what goes on in this house,” which suggests at least some of Dick and Nicole’s friends sense something is amiss in the marriage. Over the next 200 pages, Fitzgerald explores just what is rotten at the core, and we witness the fascinating shift in power dynamics between them.
I loved The Great Gatsby when I first read it, but revisiting it now in early middle age, it reads like a young person’s book—dazzling, romantic, but with a simple story and a somewhat one-dimensional view of the world. Tender Is the Night is the work of an author who has been kicked around a little bit, and who sees life’s complexity for what it is. It’s the rare book, as Virginia Woolf might say, “written for grown-up people.”