More recently I have wanted to learn more about life in 1920/30s America. As such I have picked up a handful of novels about the interwar era written by authors of the time. I find I get a much better sense of the people and the time with a novel than with a history text. One such book was Tender is the Night. I read it on a plane on the assumption that it would be good for me, but I wouldn't really enjoy it. Happily, I was wrong. I REALLY liked Tender is the Night and for the first I time understand and appreciate Fitzgerald as a classic, worthy American literary author.
Tender is the Night revolves around a psychiatrist and his schizophrenic wife who travel around Europe chasing happiness. While the characters might not seem to resemble Fitzgerald and Zelda, the book is largely autobiographical. Fitzgerald used a number of events in the story that really happened to his family. It is the honesty of life for American ex-pats in this book that I enjoyed. Fitzgerald really captured the aimlessness of the people living in that era who flitted from city to city searching for meaning.
More than the plot, however, I found Fitzgerald's writing style dynamic and engaging. He has a descriptive ability that I find lacking in many modern authors. He can say in one or two words what takes many authors a full sentence, if not a paragraph. After reading Tender is the Night, I would like to pick up more Fitzgerald to analyze his descriptive talent.
Moral of the story: don't assume every book by an author is bad (or good, for that matter) based on the "Classic" that is over-used, over-quoted, and force fed to school students. Some of the other books might be much better.