[Note: I wrote this originally to post as a review on Amazon. But it turns out that one needs to have purchased something there to be able to post. Funny, I don’t remember where I got the book, if not Amazon. Anyway, I am posting the piece here.]
Hunter by Robert James Bidinotto
As one who, until reading this book, had not read any fiction for many years, and who am more than a little familiar with Robert Bidinotto’s views on a variety of topics, I might not be able to view and judge some aspects of the novel as objectively as other readers. However, since I am an artist (composer) who shares much of Bidinotto’s philosophy (that of Ayn Rand) and aesthetic concerns, I think I can make valid observations from that standpoint. The preponderance of four-star and five-star reviews here [on Amazon as of May 24, 2015]—502 out of 577—already attests to the fact that this work succeeds in engaging highly experienced readers as a thriller should.
One of the most common mistakes I have seen followers of Rand’s philosophy make when they strive to become artists is a failure to grant adequate importance to learning the techniques of the particular genre of art they are attempting. Let’s say they want to write stories with philosophical themes. In Rand’s fiction there is a strong philosophical element, of course; but the message is always infused into the story, and no plot point is given more of it than it can bear. For example, if a character expresses an abstract idea, his or her speech does not necessarily reflect the view of the author herself, and it is never simply dropped into the story but is an actual part of the action connected both before and after. Moreover, that speech is individualized to the character speaking. (Although I would say that Rand does not satisfactorily apply that last aspect sometimes.)
What this means in practice, if one wishes to follow in her footsteps, is that a writer has to learn to really create characters and construct plots, and must understand his or her own ideas “down to the bone” to be able to illustrate them by means of expressive concretes. And it means that one must learn also how to handle all the other aspects that go into an interesting and satisfying story: description, dialogue, characterization, tone, and so on.
In other words, for a philosophical novel to succeed, it must first of all succeed as a novel. Then its success becomes a powerful advocate for any ideas contained within. Which is partly the point of writing such a novel instead of an abstract treatise.
Similarly, for music to express a rational and benevolent sense of life, one is not called upon to merely write sprightly, rhythmic music in major keys. As Rand once said, the issue is much more specifically “musical” than that. And in sculpture, if you want to glorify man, do not consider your aim achieved mainly by the career-long choice of heroic figures in dynamic poses bearing expressions of ecstasy or grim determination.
I gave this book four stars because it has avoided this pitfall. Bidinotto did a lot of practice and study over the years to learn the techniques and skill of writing a novel of ideas, and it reads that way. I withhold one of the stars only because a few of the seams still show, to my mind; but yet I do so with hesitation because I am not sure how much of this impression comes from my knowledge of where the author is coming from both philosophically and artistically and how much comes from the fact that this is his first creation as a writer of long fiction.
The story is ably and intricately plotted. Throughout, the dialogue is natural and colorful. Bidinotto also uses skillful short-paragraphing to convey action and emotion. Two scenes stand in my mind as especially well handled: the sex scene between the two main characters and the moment when the hero slips in to save his victim near the climax.
Somewhere Rand says that one should not become a writer for the sake of a cause, but treat the activity as the profession it is. This is the basic lesson that artistically hopeful Objectivists should learn, and this book might serve as a good teaching tool. Also, there is a 503/578 chance they will enjoy the session!