Worry and skepticism usually accompany the publication of long buried manuscripts by famous authors. For example, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is currently being pounded by waves of disappointment from her many fans. That might also happen to Ideal, written in 1934 and quickly superseded by a stage version of the same story, the script for which is included in the book. Readers may expect (and desire) an early statement of Rand’s hyperindividualistic beliefs. If so, they are going to be disappointed. This is a Hollywood novel, securely connected to time and place.
Ideal by Ayn Rand. New American Library (2015), 126 pp.
A Los Angeles newspaper needs to get on top of a potentially sensational story. A couple days earlier an oil magnate had been shot on his estate up the coast. Rumors arose that Garbo-like megastar Kay Gonda was there at the time. Now the actress is missing. The paper sends a reporter to her studio to uncover information on her whereabouts. Despite a half-dozen interviews, he learns little except that her co-workers hold her in aggravated disdain. One curious snippet of information does emerge, however. Kay slipped into her dressing-room bungalow at some point and removed six fan letters from men in the local area. Why she did this soon becomes clear.
Rand’s great accomplishment here is putting together the two sides of the Hollywood novel in one coherent piece of fiction. In the first chapter readers receive a glimpse of a film studio and its most important personages. In the rest of the novel Rand turns her attention to the consumers of what the studios produce. In particular, she focuses on those who imagine a personal connection with the actors they see on the movie screen. Although Kay is the main character of the novel, the narrator stays out of her mind. Even when she’s in a scene, readers learn about her only through her words and actions. Although she brings up serious issues about personal identity and the movie business, Rand wants to avoid overwhelming her audience. The novel is short, employs a straightforward writing style, and avoids any sort of ideological argument. Whatever aficionados of her later work may think, fans of the Hollywood novel are likely to enjoy what Rand has offered them here.