Comparisons between Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby are inevitable. Both are viewed as his most complete artistic visions; and both are in the enviable position of being on the Modern Libraries list of the 100 best pieces of fiction of the twentieth century.
Gatsby is gorgeously written, and the language is expressive, nuanced, and multi-leveled. One can read and re-read Gatsby and find new things with each reading. A better definition of a classic I cannot find. Gatsby is also a radically economical novel. Coming in at just 50,000 words, it is nearly a novella. A short book, it seems long due to its reputation and genius. But in the end, it is petite, and Fitzgerald had to work within the confines of this short narrative structure.
Not so with Tender is the Night. At 108,000 words, the novel allows Fitzgerald to sprawl; in the course of the novel, we see far less compressed development of the characters than in Gatsby. There are far more graphic representations of scene, the flow of time, and the outcome of events. Tender shows the reader how good Fitzgerald could be in a longer form. He stretches his wings, and the results are astonishing. It is a moving and tragic novel of love and life gone astray.
Even with some of the novel’s problems (does the text really give us enough of Nichole’s insanity? Is Dick Diver’s descent given enough grounding) Tender is the perfect accompaniment to Gatsby and Gatsby to Tender. For writers, it shows that if lighting does not exactly strike twice, similar results can be produced by and expressed by the same electric charge.