After a clunker, Brother Nick decided to take matters in his own hands with moose move, jumping the line to pick our next book, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. The novel has a reputation for being a vehicle for Rand’s individualist philosophy, but whether it was to be a good discussion book was certainly up for discussion. The meeting was held in an upscale restaurant, and us being men of power and abreast of current events, that we would sexually harass the wait staff was quickly settled. As fate would have it, we wound up being assigned an imperturbable African-American gentleman, so there will be no expose of the Illuminado on Gawker. Just kidding…of course. Harvey Weinstein…who knew!
The Fountainhead is comprised of four studies of main characters, Peter Keating, Ellsworth M. Toohy, Gail Wynand and Howard Roark. These four can easily be paired off as sets of foils. Keating vs. Roark and Toohy vs. Wynand, but they, and the other characters eventually all need to be compared to Roark, who is Rand’s ubermensch here. Keating is a second-hander who measures success by how others view him, while Roark is more like Cyrano de Bergerac and rewards himself internally for meaningful accomplishments. Toohy and Wynand both have the capacity to identify individual greatness, but both extinguish it for their own reasons. Toohy to advance the mediocrity of collectivism, and Wynand, to ensure that he always runs the mob via his vulgar New York Banner newspaper. Wynand turned out to be the most discussed character at our gathering. He is the one that evolves the most during the story, although Peter Keating devolves to such an extent that it become necessary to suspend disbelief in his case.
The book generated an excellent discussion regarding these and other brilliantly drawn characters, as well as the book’s philosophical angles, such as the needed balance between Collectivism and Individualism and the use of altruism to control the masses. Perhaps the book’s most controversial topic is the relationship between Dominique Francon and Howard Roark. The willful submission of a strong-willed woman to a strong-willed man and that Rand chose to explicitly name their first encounter as a rape. That has triggered many a feminist through the years. Like everything Rand, it is bold. She doesn’t go in for bromide.
Picking knits, this book could have used a 250-page haircut. The soapbox was wore out after 700-pages. In sum, and in the tradition of Lois Clark’s, The Gallant Gallstone, this is a brilliant book by a superb writer. Get your book club on it.