I enjoy the works of C.J. Box, a writer who lives in Wyoming and has given us the character Joe Pickett.
Pickett is a game warden, and has never wanted to do anything else. He is also a man who, knowingly or not, thrives on the idea that people automatically underestimate him. He does not look for trouble, but trouble finds him, and in Box’s world, this trouble manifests in an endless assortment of villains that find their way to the wilderness of northern Wyoming. Pickett is not Rambo, and does not automatically come out on top of his engagements with these assorted bad guys. He suffers, gets lost, makes mistakes, gets shot and loses one truck and horse after another, only surviving by some sort of native intelligence that pushes him to do something that allows him to, in the end, survive and to be with his wife, Marybeth, and daughters Sheridan and Lucy.
I like this sort of thing, detective fiction set in the Bighorn Mountains rather than the streets and alleys of Los Angeles. I am familiar with this landscape, though I was drawn in my younger years not to the Bighorns, but their northern cousin, the Beartooths.
None of that is here nor there. Box has that rare ability, as found in Stephen King and Michael Connelly, to bring to life characters of lasting interest, book after book. Last I counted, Box had given us 22 Joe Pickett adventures, which include a streaming series on Amazon Prime. What caught my eye this morning was this passage, from page 248 of his 2010 work, Nowhere to Run. I like the guy, admire his abilities, but did not expect this:
“Brent [the wife of a character in this book, speaking to Pickett] has always been very involved politically. We give a lot of money to candidates, and as a big developer he is used to being, um, close with them. There’s a lot of federal money these days, you know. It has to go to somebody, is the way Brent puts it, so it might as well be him. Anyway, Justin was a big fan of that writer Ayn Rand. You know her?”
Joe said, “I read Atlas Shrugged in college. It was pretty good until that last speech. I never could finish it because of that ninety-page speech at the end.
“Justin said he was an Objectivist, like Ayn Rand. You know, staunch capitalism, anti-big government. Lots of kids go through that.”
“Lots of kids go through that”. Unfortunately, many never grow beyond Rand.
I had the same reaction years ago. Rand was a smart woman, but the lousiest fiction writer ever to tread water. And I noticed that she picked up young people, and their intellectual development often stopped with her. I’ll never forget (though I have tried) the romantic interlude in Atlas Shrugged between Dagney Taggart and Hank Rearden, where they get it on in the sack, and then after Hank explains his ideas about romantic love, how it does not exist, and how it is all selfishness disguised as affection for others. Dagney ate it up even as in the real world a normal woman would have sent the pretentious bastard on his way, never to grace her bed again. His post-coital speech was not ninety pages. It only seemed like it.
Rand had all the attributes of a sociopath. She could not envision romantic love, and so concluded it was not real.
Anyway, C. J. Box caught me off-guard this morning with that intellectual interlude. I have enjoyed his work very much, and now I like him even more.