PREVIOUSLY: Dagny confronted her ex-lover Francisco about why he would deliberately create and burst a market bubble at his own multi-million dollar expense. He was evasive and smirked a lot. Dagny decided he must be crazy. Crazy like a fox.
Congratulations Hank & Lily Rearden, it’s the long-awaited evening of your anniversary party! Has it really been three fictional months since Chapter 2? My how the time flies.
Time isn’t flying for Hank so much though. He’s holed up in his bedroom, trying and failing to get psyched. The problem seems to be an epic disinterest in hanging out with vapid, pretentious, high-society douchebags. His wife’s friends suck, basically, and besides that he has many projects he’d rather be working on. Like that erotic poem he’s been writing about Dagny Taggart.
But he feels so guilty, because he really has been an awful and neglectful husband this past… marriage. If only he understood his wife! Or cared! Short of actual feelings, however, going downstairs is the least he can do. And so he does.
In the drawing room, Lillian is delighted to be schmoozing with the leading lights of American culture. Hank arrives and joins her.
She looks beautiful in a cocktail dress and diamonds. She’s even wearing the Rearden Metal bracelet, although it completely clashes with the rest of her ensemble, which annoys him. I don’t buy Hank noticing that much about his wife’s accessorizing, nevermind taking it as an insult, but whatever.
They are currently embroiled in a “conversation” with the philosophy professor from Patrick Henry University. The Prof is bloviating about how man is ‘a collection of chemicals with delusions of grandeur,’ and how the modern philosophical project is ‘not to help men find the meaning of life, but to prove to them that there isn’t any.’ No doubt Hank wants to kick him in the face for such claptrap, but then again Hank should have popped an Ativan while he was upstairs sulking. ‘Once [man] realizes that he is of no importance … he will become much more… tractable,’ the Professor finishes.
“Well that’s deep and all but I was asking what you think about the new bill before Congress,” says some guy. That bill, by the way, is the one that lobbyist Wesley Mouch wrote for Jim Taggart & Orren Boyle. Dun dun dun!
“Oh, the Equality of Opportunity Act? Yeah I’m down. We have to nationalize the means of production to keep the market competitive,” the Prof proffers.
That provides him a smooth transition into how the universe is an unintelligible contradiction and human reason is an illusion because we can’t ever know anything. Wow guys isn’t this a great party?
Across the room, the conversation is dominated by an author named Balph — that is Balph — Eubanks, whose latest book is titled The Heart is a Milk Man. First of all, that is hilarious and the first genuinely funny thing in the book. Congrats Ayn, it only took you 150 pages. Secondly, Balph’s opinions on literature are as absurdist and depressing as the professor’s thoughts on metaphysics.
For some reason he thinks that the printing of any individual book should be capped at a few thousand copies, which would… produce very expensive books? Balph thinks it would promote new authors. This makes no sense. Ayn, your social satire is going to have to be sharper than this. Balph’s socialism plan would clearly result in some nightmarish future where publishers and bookstores all go out of business and the uneducated rabble stops reading entirely. Which the free market would never do.
Anyway at the bar some guy named Bertram Scudder (these names are all awesome) is drunkenly harassing brother Buster Rearden about how the Equal Opportunity bill is totally righteous. Buster is all, “Dude I like it too, chill out!” and stumbles into an over-share of his own regarding how Hank thinks he’s such hot shit and this bill will finally force him to
be less awesome do his part for society.
So yes, this party is insufferably didactic, which explains why Hank has retreated to a window in the corner where he can stare in peace at his steampunk city of industry in the distance rather than listen to these jags prattle on until he wants to shoot himself.
He joins them out of etiquette but manages to give Dagny the cold shoulder pretty hardcore. She tries to celebrate their progress on the Rearden Metal track; he’s like “Yes, that is a positive development in our mutual commercial interests. Your enthusiasm will be noted in the minutes. I am leaving now.”
On his way through the crowd — and straight to the bar if he has any sense — Hank is assaulted by some gangly journalist kid who wants to know what he thinks about Bertram Scudder’s latest magazine cover story. Scudder apparently wrote a crazy harsh hit piece on Rearden, titled “The Octopus” and published in Future magazine.
Jimmy Olson points Scudder out and says he was surprised to see him here. Hank certainly did not realize the lush between him and that sweet sweet whiskey was the nefarious polemicist and backs right the fuck up to Lillian. No Hank, pour your shot first!
“The fuck is Bertram Scudder doing here? Are you trying to piss me off?” he hisses. And Lilian’s mouth says no, but her eyes say yes. She had to invite Scudder, he’s the talk of the town! Once again Rearden chooses to live in denial about his wife’s passive-aggressive mean streak, because his emotional IQ is a 1.
At this point Hank’s night is going about as poorly as he imagined, what with all these snooty liberal elites and their lamestream media. Surveying the assemblage of weak-ass caricatures he sees only boring faces melting together into a colorless puddle of banality.
That is until a striking figure, dare I say a glaring beacon of charisma, steps into the doorway and also surveys the room. Except this guy does it like he owns the place.
Francisco has crashed the party.
NEXT: Chapter 6 cont’d, “Awkward Confrontations”