Saturday, February 02, 2008

Tender is the Night: I've been strolling slowly through F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night. What's fascinating so far is how he presents a group of people -- good-timing, well-heeled, mostly American friends/acquaintances traveling in France just post WW1 -- and slowly peels away the facade of each of the characters especially the alpha male of the group who starts out heroic, but in time, buckles under the strain of being the rock to which the others are tethered. It is intricately done, often using close descriptions of seemingly trivial moments to set the stage.

Here, Fitzgerald describes the atmosphere of a dinner party thrown by the Divers (the story's alpha male and his wife).

The table seemed to have risen a little toward the sky like a mechanical dancing platform, giving the people around it the sense of being alone with each other in the dark universe, nourished by its only food, warmed by its only lights. And, as if a curious hushed laugh from Mrs. McKisco [a guest] were a signal that such detachment from the world had been attained, the two Divers began to warm and glow and expand, as if to make up to their guests, already so subtly assured of their importance, so flattered with politeness, for anything they might still miss from that country well left behind. Just for a moment they seemed to speak to everyone at the table, singly and together, assuring them of their friendliness and affection. And for a moment the faces turned up toward them were like the faces of poor children at a Christmas tree. Then abruptly the table broke up - the moment when the guests had been daringly lifted above conviviality into the rarer atmosphere of sentiment, was over before it could be irreverently breathed, before they had half realized it was there.

There is so much in that single paragraph -- the sensitive description of a transcendent moment in the midst of a commonplace event that most everyone would just briefly feel, partially appreciate, then let pass only subconsciously understood; the reference to "poor children at a Christmas tree" to indicate that the Divers were of a deeper, primal emotional significance to the group, beyond being perfect hosts and admirable friends -- great stuff.
Ol' F. Scott had some chops, he did. I'm taking my time reading Tender is the Night, sometimes only a few paragraphs at a sitting. I don't want to miss anything.