A Review of Honor Student

 Posted by on 26 June 2004 at 9:25 am  Uncategorized
Jun 262004

Ever since my post on Really Bad Objectivist Art, I’ve been thinking that I ought to repost Marc Pelath’s review of Honor Student. After all, the book is likely The Worst Objectivist Fiction Ever Written. (The review originally appeared on my WashU-era “Objectivism on the WWW” web site ever so many years ago.) Although I’m not enamored of Marc’s seeming swipe at Ayn Rand’s literary style, he does capture the essence of Honor Student. Here’s the review:

I don’t know exactly what it was that made Jimmy [Wales] pick up the book in the first place, but I have an idea of what kept him from putting it right back. Perhaps it was the notes on the inner jacket, containing nifty phrases like “It is your mind. Do not betray it”, buzzwords like “sense of life”, and enticing contradictions like “a history teacher labors as a deckhand on a freighter.” Perhaps it was the name of the publisher: “A as A Publishing: Celebrating the Glory of Man,” or the recommendation of Leonard Peikoff’s works, at the end of the book. Perhaps it was the author’s commanding visage.

Whatever it was, Jimmy bought up every copy, bless his soul.

Recently, a novel was written by a computer. What was supposed to have happened was this: a programmer/author fed the collective works of Jacqueline Suzanne into his desktop, which, using some suitable algorithms, spat out another book. Yeah, right. Anyway, let’s say we had this computer and the right code, and let’s say we fed in the collective works of Ayn Rand. So far, so good — you’re thinking “hey, I wouldn’t mind giving that a read!” Now let’s throw in the diaries and secret fantasies of a thousand newly-minted high-school Randroids. What would you get? (You’re scared, aren’t you?) Well, I’ll tell you what you would get: you’d get Honor Student.

Since this is a review of a piece of literature, I suppose I’d better talk about Honor Student qua literature for a minute. The theme is purported to be “the role of reason in education,” and it actually is. The plot, if you grant that a series of related events qualifies as a plot, is “Kevin Saunders argues with his teachers and his parents, fights the educational system, and finds love along the way.” The characters? The Randian Hero, The Randian Heroine, The Guy Who Eventually Gives Up, The Nice But Non-Heroic Sidekick, and The Bad Guys (“Taggarts, Tooheys, Healots galore,” as Echolyn put it.)

But it is not the theme, nor the plot, nor the characters that make the book interesting. The book is notable for its style, and for its evocation of Randroid nostalgia.

The style is… borrowed, to put it politely. We have the “apparent contradiction” gimmick which worked so well in Atlas Shrugged. There’s our hero Kevin Saunders, who is obviously smart, except that he’s not doing well in school, and athletic, except that he doesn’t play on any teams, and handsome, except that his romantic life is less than adequate — how can this be? you ask. There’s the brilliant artist, whose pictures don’t sell — but why not? There’s the gifted teacher, who left his school to become a deckhand — but that doesn’t make any sense! why would a gifted teacher do that? My god, is the author mad? This use of apparent contradiction might have worked if you’d never read Atlas, but you probably have, so don’t expect any surprises.

That’s not the only thing. We’ve got speeches! Boatloads of ‘em! Some seem to be pulled from the standard repertoire: “Response to an Environmentalist”, “The Trouble with Egalitarianism”, “On Public Education” (many variations), and “Boy Is This WorldFucked Up (and I Know Why)”. However, others are originals, such as “The Importance of Writing” and “The Nice but Non-Heroic Sidekick Discovers Life as the Standard of Value while in the Library”.

On a finer scale, we see more that is characteristically Randian. There is that special something about the dialogue, which you can see here…

Hooper looked lost. “Does that mean you’re not going to help?”

“I gave my answer the first time you asked.”

“But have you considered what it will mean to twelve hundred men and women without jobs? Have you thought of their families?” Hooper whimpered sympathetically.

“No. Good day.”

…and here…

“I see,” said Mrs. Wallace, though it was obvious she didn’t. “I understand you have a brother in college?”


“How’s he doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you must talk sometimes, or write letters?”


“But he’s your brother.”

“That’s all we have in common.”

If you are looking to practice your Roarkish rhetoric, you will find plenty of exercises like these. Besides this sort of dialogue, there are also those special turns of phrase that only Rand — or her emulator — can do.

“With a violent backhanded sweep of his arm, Daniel sent the radio crashing to the floor. He gripped at the edge of the sink, poised as if over a precipice, teetering in the strained, deliberate rhythm of his breathing…”

I think there’s even contemptuous laughs and smiles of derision, although I can’t seem to find any right now. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be there.

Any fan of Ayn Rand’s can appreciate the book just for its… ahem… familiar style. However, those Objectivists who first read Rand in high school will be able to appreciate it on another level. I know what you were like in high school. You were like me. You were a raving Randroid, and you had fantasies, and maybe you even lived some of them. Did you ever read a book during a pep rally, because you didn’t want to be party to “the mindlessness of mobs”? Did you ever really want to make a teacher look like an idiot, using only your superior intellect? Did you ever want to be asked to rejoin the team because they really need you, so you could turn them down for some moral reason? Were you ever secretly happy that your favorite musician became a sell-out, because you felt really righteous? (“I only listen to their old stuff, before they sold out.”) Ever skip out on a field trip because it didn’t serve your purposes? Or give your own little Galtish speech for a valediction?

Kevin Saunders does it all, and more. I loved it.

Honor Student is the book that you or I could have written, but didn’t, because neither of us can write fiction. Michael Russell had no such barrier, apparently.

Zero stars. And buy every copy you come across.

And yes, you can buy a copy on Amazon.

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