Finally, finally, I’m done with it. Interestingly enough, I read it for pretty much the same reason I read The Hunger Games: I didn’t have a book, it was free, and I get seriously irked when people knock shit they haven’t tried. The difference, as it turns out, it that Hunger Games had some redeeming qualities. It wasn’t the best thing in the world, but it kept me entertained, so it did its job. The Fountainhead was a different story.
At first I was pleasantly surprised: Ayn Rand is a much better prose stylist than I expected, although she does have a somewhat irritating tendency toward the over-said. She also has the balls to make her plot gigantic, spanning many years of the same characters lives (Kavalier and Klay does that, too, now that I think about it) and involving a lot of totally unreasonable things made sort of believable. But the characters, god I hated them all so much. Of course, I’ve read books in which I hated the characters before and I liked them considerably more than this one. Pretty much anything by Charles Bukowski, for example.
At first I thought it was because at least Bukowski’s awful characters never tried to teach me anything, but after an initial encounter with a college president, Rand’s characters didn’t lecture at me for a few hundred pages — although it came back with a vengeance in the last hundred. So it couldn’t have only been that. Turns out, I think, I hated these characters not only because of their particular flaws but for a deep flaw in the writing itself, one that I don’t believe could have been taken out of the book without literally rewriting the entire thing.
Rand writes characters that she sees as entirely righteous (there are maybe one and a half of these characters) or entirely reprehensible. By definition this creates flat characters, which is the best way to describe the boring, boring characters in The Fountainhead. Pretty much everything Rand did in the book was based on the idea of a black and white world, despite the fact that the gray area is where all the really interesting shit goes down. She also had the irritating habit of attaching to any character that displays altruism, her supreme evil, a whole host of more reasonable weaknesses, like dishonesty, greed, lust for power, etc. Because apparently all of these ills are branches of altruism?
The strangest part of the last hundred pages (no spoilers, don’t worry) is that throughout the pontificating she would make really good arguments for self-actualization and then destroy any piece of credibility I might have given her by saying that any desire to do well by other people is antithetical to self-actualization. It was incredibly frustrating. The last hundred pages too me as long to read as the first 400, which is definitely a bad sign. But hey, now I’ve read Ayn Rand and I feel no compulsion to read anything else by her. And Ayn Rand hates compulsion.