Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mya *The Fountainhead* Ayn Rand

Okay, so I had to put off reading my Louisa May Alcott book ("An Old Fashion Girl") for several reasons, but was able to snatch the one copy of "The Fountainhead" that my library had. It's a monster of a book! It was very intimidating, staring at the four inch thick spine, wondering if I had the wherewithal to actually finish it, and would I even understand it. Surprisingly, I did enjoy it.

"The Fountainhead" is not nearly as difficult a read as I'd imagined. What struck me from the beginning was the whole idea of passion. Passion for money, passion for architecture, passion for position, passion for women, passion for acclaim, passion for passion's sake. I felt like I was looking down two different paths of the same subject. One man, Howard Roarke, kept his passion close to his chest. He had an honesty that scared people, and a single mindedness that drove others mad. He didn't care that he didn't fit in. He only had one great, driving need: to build structures the way he wanted. And the way he wanted was very different from the way it had "always been done". The other man, Peter Keating, had a passion for recognition, and the fame and money that came with it. He enjoyed creating buildings, yes, but it seemed to be nothing compared to his driving desire to have everything. It was a passion of self: he believed he was the best, and so he deserved to have the best. These two creatures, two sides of the same coin, had a strange love/hate relationship. It was interesting to watch the mirror images of their desires smack into each other, grapple, then pull apart, each time one wearing away just a bit of the other, all the time knowing that one couldn't survive without the other.

The book also had a heavy theme of "new vs. old". The Old Guard who still believed architecture could only be acceptable if it used all the old school thoughts. Roman and Greek, lots of frou-frou, plenty of heavy accents. The New Guy, who believed that the building should honor the world surrounding it, should be a reflection of its purpose, and of possibilities. The old, of course, does its best to smother the new, to break it down, to force it into a mold. They praised their own boy wonder, Keating, who clung to the old ways because he understood that was how to get ahead. When they couldn't break Roarke, they simply tried to destroy him in a systematic fashion. However, there were enough "new guys" to keep the modernisitic Howard Roarke working, even if it wasn't consistent work. It was fascinating to go through these trials with Roarke, to see him struggle, succeed, struggle, fail. Then to see Keating succeed, succeed, succeed, and still be unsatisfied and somehow empty.

I'll only touch on the love affairs, as they are hard to describe, but definitely twined into the story. Volatile, distraught, smothering, the sort of love that can either kill you or save you. You get to see passion reveresed, watching as each man deals with his heart in much the same way as he deals with his architecture. It's fascinating, and very disturbing.

The secondary characters were beautifully created. Even the ones who were only present for a few pages had a life of their own. The ones who were more deeply involved were cannily eased into the stories, and their part in the lives of Roarke and Keating seemed to be predestined, even if the main characters didn't realize it. Personally, I always think that if the secondary characters aren't well drawn, the story won't support itself. In this case, I think Rand could have written entire books about the supporting cast.

The only negative thing I can say is that Rand does seem to prose on and on. Maybe it's because in this day and time our culture is used to news bites, snippets of information, words tied in tight bows with minimal explanations. But I'll admit that there were times when I said, "Okay, I know that Roarke makes people uncomfortable; I don't need to be reminded every other paragraph." I also felt that it didn't take three sentences to describe a man's hair.

However, with that said, I'll tell you that it was definitely worth the read. It's a classic for a reason, and I can see why it was so sensational when first published. It's still sensational today. It's the sort of story that makes you take a long, hard look at yourself, and makes you wonder which person you are: Roarke or Keating. Or if you're maybe a little of both.


Jen A said...

Very interesting to read your review. I loved this book when I was in college...and then I tried to read it again about a year ago. And I felt like Rand was beating me on the head with a hammer with her philosophy of individuality. I still very much like the first half of the book, but I can't get through the second half any more...

Megan said...

I agree with Jen. At least with loving it the first time. Rand definitely writes with a passion that is almost contagious, especially to the college-age mindset. I've been wanting to read it again as I felt that at the time it was such a life-changing book. I'm afraid now I would just be annoyed by her forcing the point. Or not. I am easily influenced by other people's opinions...

Linda said...

I still heart Rand. Especially FOUNTAINHEAD. ATLAS SHRUGGED is even more heavy-handed with the philosophy.

In some ways, her books are like these huge tracts on Objectivism. But hey, I guess I believe in much of her philosophy.

Great review, btw. Maybe when I wade through my list, I'll go back and reread. peace, Linda