North America escaped the wave of Nihilism that beleaguered Europe after the Great War. Although escaping the horrendous casualty lists of the European nations, Americans aped Continental disillusionment with their own, anaemic version, of it. Retaining greater resources, America's wealthy survivors returned to Europe, filled with cynicism and indifference. Few books have caught the attitudes of interwar Americans as vividly as this one. It is a Judas kiss in depicting America's social values of the time. Few could enjoy the life he describes, yet all aspired to it. Fitzgerald caught and portrayed the segment of that society most people seem to remember. It's a limited view, but tightly focussed.
Richard Diver, married to what was then termed a "neurotic" woman, encounters a young movie star. Films were still silent and actresses were chosen for their physical appeal. Rosemary, although still a teen-ager, fills the image perfectly. Immature, notorious and vivacious, she sets her sights on Diver. Encouraged by her mother, although the motivation for this remains unclear, Rosemary applies her wiles on a man twice her age.
As the two encounter, separate and meet again, they interact with members of the expatriate community in France. Fitzgerald portrays most of them through the couple's viewpoint. The depictions are compelling and evocative, but there isn't an appealling one in the lot. Diver's role in the new [then] Freudian psychology gives Fitzgerald a mechanism for exploring the human psyche. The dismemberment of Freud's analysis by modern studies doesn't detract from Fitzgerald's descriptive prowess. Even from this distance in time he's remains a writer to turn to and reflect on. He's deservedly acclaimed as one of the "greats" of the twenties.
[stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]