Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand (2017 Reading Challenge #14)

The Night of January 16thThe Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Did he jump, or was he pushed?

This title was #14 on my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book from a genre I’d never heard of. This would be ergodic literature, books that call for active participation by the reader beyond simply moving the eyes and turning the pages. The gimmick here is that in a stage performance (this is a play), members of the audience are chosen as jury members and the ending depends on the verdict.

This is a fast, engaging read – I read the whole thing in three commutes with time for a quick doze too. It would be interesting to see it performed on stage, and particularly to be one of the audience jury members, but even knowing that’s the gimmick makes you pay a little bit more attention.

It’s typical non-lawyerly presentation of a criminal trial — lawyers object to things that really aren’t objectionable, and the judge sustains or overrules seemingly arbitrarily. No real rules of evidence apply. There’s an awful lot of stuff that has no business being presented in a criminal trial, and a truckload of stuff that should be there, that isn’t.

But, Ayn Rand’s writing is known for its focus on symbolism and philosophy, and this play is written not as a trial of the defendant based upon discernible facts, but as a judgment of one person’s (or two people’s) way of looking at life and the world based on how those sitting in judgment look at life and the world. Do they see evil and culpability? Or do they see independence and the exercise of free will? Are they constrained by rigid social values, or can they embrace the free spirit? It’s an exercise in recognizing that’s how we all go through life, making judgment calls based on personal experience and perspective, and that facts often have little to do with it. I’m not a lawyer but I do have a fairly extensive background in the law and law enforcement, and I decided the defendant was not guilty based solely on the crappy “evidence.” So while I think I’m pretty good at putting myself in other people’s shoes, it’s also possible that I missed the point altogether.

The irritant, for me, was the character of a woman who likes sex only after a man forces her into to it to show her that she likes it, thereby unleashing her sensuality. Still, this play was written in 1933 and in that regard Rand can only be seen as a product of her times, before it was recognized that women can like sex and — heaven forbid — can decide they like it all by themselves.

I was expecting a lot more out of the two alternate endings, along the lines of what was done with the movie Clue. The endings in this play are not even close, and I deducted a star for how anticlimactic the close was. It’s still a good read though, and its genius lies in its deceptive simplicity.

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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