Part II, Chapter 5 begins in the middle of The Long Winter, when a little bug goes ka-choo!, causing a three orange growers, two lettuce farms, a commission house, a plumbing company, a lead-pipe distributor, a ball bearing company, a motor company, a sawmill, a lumber yard, and a building contractor to go out of business, all for the want of a
horseshoe nail load of coal.
Yeah, you read that right: the existence of thirteen separate businesses depended on a single load of coal being delivered on time. Businesspeople in Ayn Rand’s Straw Paradise are really, really bad at foresight, I guess.
Meanwhile, Ragnar Danneskold THE PIRATE! is stealing loads of coal, copper, steel, irons, toasters, washing machines, and “all electrical appliances” in his apparent goal to shut down the entire import-export business. Because when people can’t buy or sell stuff domestically, it TOTES MAKES SENSE to prevent businesses from buying or selling abroad!
I have a hypothesis, which is this: THE PIRATE is diverting at least some of this stuff to John Galtopia. If true, Ayn Rand totally just sunk her own battleship. If you have to steal stuff to succeed at “going Galt,” then you’re not actually “going Galt” at all, seeing as how you still need the rest of us looters to keep you functioning. FAIL.
But I digress.
The board of Taggart Transcontinental is also having a meeting, at which we learn that horizontal monopolies are suddenly good again. (?????) Also, Taggart Transcontinental is facing pressure to raise wages and cut shipping rates. Everybody involved in this mess has a hilarious first name: Buzzy. Chick. Tinky. Kip. Dagny.
Wait, no. Not Dagny.
Dagny announces that the railroad is going to hell and it is everyone’s fault but hers. This, of course, goes over like a lead balloon, or it would if THE PIRATE didn’t keep stealing shipments of either lead or balloons.
The board decides to pull the plug on the John Galt Line, which Dagny takes pretty badly even though she’s the one who told them the patient was a total vegetable whose lifetime insurance limits had expired. (Howzat for a metaphor?) Frisco, who has a MAD SIXTH SENSE for this sort of thing, takes her out for drinks and keeps her from throwing herself in front of a train by telling her about the Unbearable Awesomeness of Being John Galt. (Except that Frisco is not John Galt. John Galt is John Galt. I think.)
A few ASTERISK’ed months later, Dagny and Hank Rearden teleport to Colorado to see the last run of the John Galt Line and to loot the closed factories. No, really, loot them: “They had been buying machinery from doubtful owners in sales of dubious legality, since nobody could tell who had the right to dispose of the great, dead properties, and nobody would come to challenge the transactions.” Uh-huh.
Back in New York, James Taggart invites Lillian Rearden to dinner without a care for how this will look to the prurient-minded reader. ;) Lillian is all “Hank’s taking this John Galt Line closing business hard, just like Dagny, so let us enjoy our delicious double helping of schadenfreude.”
Ayn Rand then demonstrates a nuanced understanding of modern literary criticism, one Harold Bloom would hate even if they draw the same conclusion: “[T]he essence of that modern language…was never to let oneself or others understand anything down to the root.”
I’m totally going to launch a new line of literary criticism based on this notion. I’ll call it Clairolism.
Lillian Rearden then decides to catch her husband’s return to New York on the train, but discovers – via some business with flowers that doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense – that he’s “not traveling alone.” This, of course, makes her super-excited, because she’s just dying to know who Hank is sleeping around with. (DRAMATIC IRONY MOMENT)
Then, of course, she finds out. And then she’s all SHOCKED and GROSSED OUT and LIVID. For the first time in 529 pages, Lillian Rearden loses her shit. And it is glorious.
Well, and also kind of crappy. For Lillian. But glorious.
(Btw, whatever happened to the new Mrs. Jim Taggart?)