Sans its message, sans its historical significance, sans its ability to turn young people into libertarians, the first thing one picks up on when starting Atlas Shrugged is the poverty of the prose. Ayn Rand, no matter her or her followers’ opinion otherwise, just isn’t a very good writer. The language is plodding, non-lyrical, and often often awkward. For example, in one scene she writes, “He stood slouching against the bar.” To my knowledge, one stands against a bar or one slouches against a bar–but one does not stand slouching. An editor would’ve fixed that, but I was told once–and maybe this is apocryphal–that Rand refused such editing, asking, “Would you edit the Bible” Ignoring that the Bible was, in fact, edited through countless revisions and translations over thousands of years, Atlas Shrugged is not the Bible. It is not scripture, nor does it benefit from the myth of a divine author whose original manuscript is lost in prehistory.
What else comes to mind, a mere 200 pages into this monstrous novel? Well, I can’t imagine wanting to hang out with any of these people. Her good guys are, without exception, awful human beings. They display no compassion and evidence no empathy. A world filled with such super men would be a terrible place, indeed. Her bad guys, on the other hand–her collectivists and leftists and academics–are ugly little toads who snivel and beg from the arch-capitalists we’re all supposed to look up to when we aren’t looking for an excuse to leave. Objectivism, at least as presented in this seminal text, affords no nuance.
None of this precludes the worthiness of Rand’s ideas, however. I have not encountered enough of those in the fist sixth of the book to adequately judge them, so such critique will have to wait until future posts. While I imagine there will be a great deal throughout Atlas Shrugged I disagree with, and a great deal I am sympathetic towards, the fact remains that, except for my knowledge that this is a novel of ideas, one read for its philosophy and arguments and intellectual importance, I’d have put it down long ago.