Monday, December 21, 2009

Book 19: Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

If 'The Great Gatsby' is Fitzgerald's 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' then 'Tender Is The Night' is his 'White Album', overstuffed, sprawling, more ambitious, less successful over all but still perfect in a magnificent way.

It tells the romantic tragic tale of Dick Diver and his young wife Nicole as they travel Europe from one glittering empty party to the next. The atmosphere that they move in is dominated by their presence, almost as if they were some sort of entertainment, which other people arrange their schedules to be a part of. Of course, like any entertainment, they have a limited shelf-life unless they adapt and come up with a new show. They only have one show.

Diver is a psychoanalyst and has married a patient. He believes he can cure her with his love. She eventually divorces him to marry another and he retreats to the States, exiting a life of prestige and opulence to find himself in more and more obscure circumstances. The narrator ends by saying that he'd heard some sort of rumor about him losing his right to practice medicine after a scandal, forcing him to move from his last known address. He then speculates that he is most likely in that area of the country.

Compare this to Gatsby's fate which has the kind of dramatic exclamation point that works very well in that story. Here Diver gets no easy murder as a path to iconic status. No, he begins as fascinating as Gatsby and slowly dissolves until he is less than anonymous, he is forgotten.

My senior year at URI had been a tempest in a teacup. My sister and the whole crew I'd come in with were no longer there. I had had my foot on the theater pedal non-stop for four years. I'd spent my junior year living in a party house down by the beach with two great friends, idly drinking and flirting and rehearsing and occasionally taking a test in some subject I could barely acknowledge.

By mid senior year I'd already made the decision to spend my fifth year abroad in Orleans. This gave every interaction some sort of weight, a kind of formality ensued in which I viewed my whole life as some kind of victory lap.

An intense flirtation had blown up into a disaster of a relationship involving multiple betrayals. I began the slide by breaking up with her to date an old friend. She then returned the favor in kind over and over again. I don't blame her but she caused me a lot of pain.

The summer approached. Life as I knew it was ending and I was going to leave it all and go where I was not known by anyone but myself. After having spent four years in extremely comfortable if dramatic surroundings, this prospect was exciting but terrifying as well.

Just before finals I developed a wart on my heel. I ignored it as best I could until I couldn't get a shoe on without grimacing in pain. I shuffled down to the URI Health Services to see what they could do. Most likely the night before I spent sobbing with my girlfriend or pretending everything was fine.

The nurse said this wouldn't be a problem. They'd freeze it off with liquid nitrogen. Fine, I said.

Finals started that next week.

They used a swab to layer liquid nitrogen over the wart which was about the size of a pencil eraser.

Two days later it was a plum sized red/black blister.

They'd told me I could expect some swelling so at first I didn't pay it any mind. But it became quickly apparent that something was wrong. I limped back over there and said, "Um, I know you said it might swell up a bit but this doesn't look too good."

When the doctor saw it he said, "Oh my god." Not what you want to hear from your doctor. Seems the nurse had used far too much solution and burnt the shit out of my heel. They held me down and lanced the blister. Blood flew all over the god damn room and they had to hold me down.

They wrapped me in gauze and gave me painkillers and a note saying I wouldn't be able to study too well for my finals.

Four days later my girlfriend left to go back to Illinois. I limped around using a cane and drugged up. The wound on my ankle was about the size of a golf ball and deep. She was going back home where the guy she'd dated in and around our relationship lived. She then spent the first four weeks of summer pestering me about coming to visit while she secretly started seeing him again. She neglected to tell me this until I was in her room after having spent money I didn't have to fly across the country to see her.

I dragged myself home, got Lyme's Disease shortly thereafter and rolled off to France a total mess.

Our last real days together as a couple were spent with her helping me to dress and care for my ankle. She was kind to me then in spite of what was to come. As far as I know she is a veterinarian working somewhere in the Northwest.

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