ATLAS SHRUGGED REVIEW
by Georgevine Moss
I bought a copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in a bookstore in New York. I didn't know it then, but now I can say: how fitting. It was the 50th anniversary edition paperback with 1069 pages of story in it, all of it told in really small print. Due to its size and to the fact that the author was trying to present her philosophy in a dramatized way, in my experience, the book is not a fast read...at all.
The way I see it, there's a negative and a positive about the size of Atlas Shrugged.
There were passages which, even though they'd probably wouldn't count as repetition, they could qualify as "overdoing it". The author had already expressed her ideas through multiple characters, and usually with very apt metaphors, so doing so again, using yet another example and another, seemed unnecessary and thus distracting.
The fact that the purpose of the novel was to present a philosophy, a value system, I think should count as a positive regardless of the reader's opinion on the philosophy expressed in the book. There were a lot of times when I had to pose to ponder about what was being said, question its validity, determine whether I agreed or not and if I didn't, then question my own thoughts on the matter.
This process slows the reading down and, depending on the reader's mood, may not be what he's looking for in a novel, but no one can argue that such a process has no value.
The book was first published in 1957 so one could perhaps expect certain passages, at the very least, to read "funny", but that is not the case. Apart from the word "gay" instead of "happy" being used quite often, something that could perhaps amuse the modern reader, and the word "awesome", which was used a couple of times toward the end of the novel in sentences such as "...his awesome power..." (quoted from memory) and, to me, sounded out of place, there was nothing else regarding the usage of language that could ruin the reading experience.
The book starts from the very beginning when it comes to its protagonists, especially Dagny Taggart and Francisco D'Anconia, both of which we get to see acting "right" (i.e. having brilliant minds and using them to study or/and work, a.k.a. producing) from childhood up to their approaching 40th birthday.
Dagny and Francisco aren't the only useful people in the Atlas Shrugged universe though. Plenty more are named in the story, all of them living according to the Rand Standards. There's no lack of antagonists either. The bad boys club, the government that more or less destroys humanity by the end of the novel, is comprised by many characters who share the same...immorality, if you will.
Though the same story could probably be told with fewer characters, all of them are put in there for a reason. Each one of them helps the author present her philosophy in full and show how it governs all aspects of life and used by all kinds of people.
For example, although Dagny and Francisco come from wealthy families and accomplished ancestors, Rearden is not. Regardless, he too managed to produce, succeed and prosper. As for John Galt, he is the golden-haired poster boy of the Rand Standards. Many things can be said about that character. In brief, if Ayn Rand was asked "Who is John Galt?" the only reason she wouldn't reply "God" would be because she didn't believe in the specific term.
Through bad boys club member James Taggart, the author gets to show to the reader how his kind thinks, and ultimately prove how such a person can have nothing but misery, both in his professional and his personal life. The same misery is proven using different points of view through characters such as Lillian and Philip, Rearden's wife and brother respectively.
And then there's Eddie Willers. The kid that wanted but couldn't. He really wants for that train to move forward, (in the voice of Hannibal Lecter talking to Clarice Starling through those bars in his cell) all the way to - New - York - City, but the engine is broken and no matter how hard he tries HE just can't fix it.
About that Plot
The story is simple. The destruction of the world as it is, bit by bit until there's nothing more to wreck and a new order is needed so that, the right people, can build it back from the ruins. But, due to its nature, the novel focuses mainly on its characters, so the plot is...
Well, plot points are splashed like rocks thrown into a river, from one point on to another hundreds of pages later, to form a sloppy path and get the story wherever it needs to be next.
That's how I would put it now that I'm trying to comment on it, because overall I didn't really think about the plot while I was reading the novel, except maybe when Dagny piloted her way through her mission when her train couldn't get her there, cause apparently, she knew how to fly an airplane too (p.634). Or rather, the way her flight was described, she didn't, but really how hard could it be for someone like her? It's not like she's Eddie Willers.
I mention this rather small indiscretion for two reasons. First, it was the only time up to that point that something didn't quite add up (as in having her take flying lessons at an earlier point), which is quite commendable considering the complexity of the Atlas Shrugged world. Second, because it was probably a patch. To elaborate, Dagny needed to find out what was really going on with all the missing industrialists. In the end, she found out about them and their Valley via an impromptu flight and crash, despite having this rather carefully crafted sub-plot thing going on with the dollar-signed cigarette.
I thought that the cigarette was an interesting plot moment. Dagny first encounters the weird tobacco specimen when some guy who is way too able to be just a cook in some diner smokes one in her presence. Dagny is curious and doesn't just throw the thing away when she's done with it. No, she gives it to that guy we've already been introduced to, the one who sells smokes at the Terminal and who is some expert on cigarette brands, in order to do some investigating. But that guy apparently isn't good enough to find out anything about that cigarette and thus lead Dagny to the missing industrialists. No, she does it all by herself, by accident, flying a small aircraft into the ground.
Another interesting moment was that point where you realize you only have about 300 pages left and you are introduced to the government-made sound wave weapon that can destroy everything within a certain mile radius. What I thought could happen was that, this was an important plot point, the weapon would be vital for the story's ending and so even though I had about a whole novel's length left to read it would be quite interesting. Not so.
The weapon, although it played a part in the story, it was not THE major plot point. You see, John Galt got captured by the government. The protagonists had to save that guy, cause he's really worthy of it.
Generally speaking, I don't think anyone can find any holes into the Atlas Shrugged story. Overall though, the most thought out part of the plot must have been the government's step-by-step plan to hand the world--yes even New York City--over into chaos.
Atlas Shrugged offers a lot of material for discussion. Since this effort of a review is already long, I will write a September 2012 blog post where I will present various opinions and views that are expressed in the novel and comment on them. Or at least try to.