Friday, July 22, 2011

Ageless Fiction?

My son Nate came home for a visit in June and was surprised to learn that I've never read The Fountainhead.

Truthfully, I couldn't really believe it either. It's one of those books everyone has read at some point or another, right? One of those books I'd always planned to tackle, along with War and Peace.

"You really ought to read it." It's funny when your kids start talking like this. Echoes of all the things you've told them for the past twenty-one years circle back. You want to do a little happy dance, because here is your middle kid -- the one who was a wee bit challenging there for a while -- and he wants to discuss a book with you.

Nate went back to Burlington, Vermont, where he goes to college (and works in the summer) and a few weeks later I found myself there unexpectedly. We had dinner together and he again asked me about The Fountainhead. When I confessed I didn't have it yet, he insisted on making me a copy of the first ten chapters to listen to on the ride home to Maine. "This will get you started," he said, handing me a disk.

The next morning I began my journey east on Rt. 2, the sounds of The Fountainhead filling my Toyota. Ten minutes into it, I was hooked. I listened for the whole six hour ride and then grabbed the book out of the library the minute I got home.

I'm only about halfway through, but I can safely agree with Nate's assessment -- The Fountainhead is astounding. I could probably blog about nothing else for several years and still have plenty to say about the strongly drawn characters, riveting story lines, and complex philosophical themes. The language is rich (these are the kinds of sentences you want to read out loud to someone else, just to savor how finely crafted they are) and I can't begin to describe the author's use of metaphor. Clearly Ayn Rand was a masterful storyteller.

What fascinates me (and Nate as well) is how Rand managed to write in such a timeless style. Despite the occasional reference to a "speakeasy" or a "switchboard," her story of two architects struggling to succeed in Manhattan feels as if it is happening right now. Granted, no one is using a cell phone, writing a blog, or stopping at a Starbucks, and yet the setting seems contemporary and fresh.

Why is that?

Is it precisely because there is so little technology integral to the story? Or is it because she focused on universal human truths and questions? Do we, as writers, care about how our novels age? Is that even something you can think about while writing a book?

How will your mysteries age, and does it matter?

1 comment:

Jessie Chandler said...

Vicki, interesting post!!! Lots of food for thought. I dint know... I think it's a human condition situation. Pretty cool to have your kid introing you to Fountainhead!!!