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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Then there was only the ocean and the sky and the figure of Howard Roark.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The Fountainhead is a story about love, going against the societal grain, and egoism (in a very specific sense of the word). It follows the path of Howard Roark after he's been expelled in his final year at Stanton School for Architecture. He goes on to strike his own path, defying norms along the way. His classmate, Peter Keating, uses Roark for his talent at various points in the novel, and, after a quick rise to the top, Peter ends up miserable and alone. Peter's boss and later partner, Guy Francon, a major architect, has a daughter with whom he has an almost non-existent relationship. That woman, Dominique Francon, falls for Roark (after he basically rapes her. Needless to say, it's COMPLICATED.) But of course, the whole book is really about pseudo-masochism wherein all of the protagonists are fighting against the endless drone of incompetence and an unwillingness to live fulfilling, productivity-driven lives. There are some twists along the way (Dominique marries not one, but 2 men, before she ends up with Roark -- Peter Keating (I know, BLEGH) and Gail Wynand, a newspaper tycoon) and we see Roark's continual rise and fall and rise and fall and rise in the architecture industry.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Okay, so admittedly, that plot summary is not what anyone might call (a) stellar, (2) very informative, or (d) THRILLING TO YOUR CORE. The book is decent, and full disclosure, I LOVED it when I read it as a high schooler. I named all of my senior year portfolios after characters in the book for Mrs. Brown's AP English class. (Those of you that remember Mrs. Brown's class know portfolio names MEAN SOMETHING!) But this time around, the zing was just Missing. I adore Atlas Shrugged; I think I always have and I always will. But this book did not hold up for me, and I find it perverse and often baffling. Well, at least baffling. ;)

Here are some thoughts on it, in a random stream:

-So, Ayn Rand has said that she achieved what she wanted to achieve with The Fountainhead in Atlas Shrugged and I have to say I agree. This book honestly felt like a not-that-great first draft for Atlas Shrugged. I kept on thinking that Roark didn't need to struggle through the mire of it all - JOHN GALT WOULD COME AND SAVE HIM! and then I was like, oh wait. That's NOT in THIS book. Lame.

-I didn't think Dominique was as strong a character as Dagny Taggart (again, in Atlas). There were parts of Dominique that I admired, but she spent SO much time going ON and ON about how she was INTENTIONALLY making herself MISERABLE because it was all part of her master plan to say "screw the world" but mostly it just felt like MASOCHISM to me. I don't see what she really achieved from her scheming. I felt like Rand was constantly taking a character's actions and breaking them down for us and then being like, "GET IT? BECAUSE IT'S THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOU THINK IS RIGHT! So it makes sense!" It reminded me of when my best friend Deanna and I used to pretend it was "opposites day" when we were little and we'd turn to each other and say "I hate you!" (You know what THAT means on opposite day, right?) and collapse in fits of giggles. Only guess what, Ayn Rand? It's NOT opposites day.

-Also, I don't know if it's because it came earlier or something, but this book was much less celebratory of women. Dominique writes a domestic column for the paper (somewhat ironically, but STILL) and even though she has some cool scenes later on, she's just not that lovable (in my opinion) and she's the only woman we get. I understand it was the early-ish 20th century, but COME ON. If you can write characters like Dagny and Dominique, I know you could get a few more ladies with backbones and SUBSTANCE in there. Hm. I just realized that we get WAY more insight into Rand's protagonist in Atlas, Dagny, and perhaps that's because she was trying to write a male protagonist in this first one to bring in more readers? Doesn't really seem like something she'd do, though. Cater to an audience? (ONLY ON OPPOSITES DAY!)

-There were simply fewer likable characters. I get that much of Rand's writing is a smokescreen for her philosophy, but I am a LITERATURE major at heart, so I have to say that I was missing the plot and the character development. It becomes a book with only one sort of likable protagonist, but we really don't see the inside of Roark. He's supposed to be all indestructible, but we don't get in his head, and I just ended up feeling left out and disconnected from him.

-Okay, enough hating and whining. On to the bits I liked. ("Why don't you tell me the bit you liked, and I'll tell you if I liked making that bit?")

-When Keating asks Dominique who she's slept with before, she tells him point blank that she slept with Roark (sort of his nemesis at this point). He totally blows her off, and says that if she didn't want to tell him she didn't have to make something up. I thought this was hilarious. (Dominique and Roark have an affair for a long time before anyone knows. Don't ask why - I'd have to get into the OPPOSITES DAY thing about why they can't be together for like the ENTIRE book and have to get together on the last page.)

-Gail Wynand (the newspaper tycoon and 2nd husband of Dominique) was a gang leader in Hell's Kitchen in his earlier days. One of my favorite anecdotes from his history is when he realizes that people of power aren't necessarily rich, but they are well read. So he gets his gang members to sneak books out of the library under their shirts. But here's what kills me: IT'S A LIBRARY. THEY'RE FREE. I guess it's the whole, "Mr. Escalante, I need to keep one book at home and one in class so no one ever sees me reading" thing, but still. Librarians are FANS of reading. And they LOVE to give books away on loan. :0) Trust a former library worker. I know these things, Gail.

-I thought it was intriguing that Wynand wants to keep Dominique all to himself, because it's what Dominique wants for Roark and what Roark wants for Dominique. I guess it's a natural inclination for parents/children and lover/lover but it seemed painfully ironic. Especially since Wynand loves Dominique but the feeling isn't truly mutual. (At least not in the same way.)

-The Cortlandt homes scene is great. Probably the only scene in the book where I was TRULY riveted. But don't worry. I won't "blow" it for you. Heh. Heh.

-I was waiting the WHOLE book for Ellsworth Toohey to GET WHAT WAS COMING TO HIM. Okay, yes. If you glance back, you will see that I seem to have Accidentally omitted him from the plot summary. Basically, he's a respected "voice" for the people, and constantly champions the underling but sort of ironically but sort of not and anyway, I HATE HIM. I know, I know, hate is a strong word, but there are some nasty comments I wrote toward him in my book. I won't repeat them for my blog-readers' Delicate Ears, but if you ever find yourself borrowing my copy of this book, a word of warning. He sort of did get what was coming to him in the end, in that Wynand finally shuts down his paper (The Banner) after running it into the ground trying to be honorable for once and defending Roark and he does it right after Toohey is Forced back onto the job thanks to a union rep. So it's kind of a good "suck it" moment, but really, VERY ANTICLIMACTIC after we spend the WHOLE book building this seething venomous hatred for him. Well. At least for some of us.

With that, I will bid you adieu. Sorry this one was a bit angry and not as glowing as the last two. I'm still a bit curious about my personal 180 with this novel. In all the times I've read books more than once, I find it odd that this is the only one I liked less the second time around. ("Of all the girls I've known - and I've known some - you're the only girl I ever danced with twice.")

The title is from a great last scene where Dominique is riding a hoist up Roark's greatest building to come, watching the world disappear as she hones in on his figure.

Onwards to Silence and Contentment. Oh, remember? It's OPPOSITES DAY!

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