This novel by Jean-Philippe has a stellar first sentence: “I quit watching television.” The rest of the book fluctuates to sometimes match this greatness, or to dip to lows of the narrator talking about his balls, “my hand cradling the family jewels, serenely eating a chicken leg with mayonnaise.” A sometimes interesting look at the procrastination of an author, working up the courage to write a few sentences for a project he’s gotten a grant to work on over the summer when his wife & kid are vacationing in Italy. The wife is preggers and he creepily insists on talking about his children, plural, as if the unborn is already flouncing around. He is a master time waster, getting sucked into weeks of watching tennis matches before deciding to quit watching TV, then finds other ways to meander away the days, getting sunburned in the park, swimming laps, sitting peacefully in museums, washing the glass on his French doors. Anything but work. His main struggle that he can’t get over is trying to decide what to call his main character, Titian (the painter).
Recently I’d even caught myself bringing up my project on my own initiative, at parties or dinners at home, sometimes with such enthusiasm that I had to wonder if in the end it wasn’t myself I was trying to convince of its interest, and not my unfortunate audience. Once again, it seemed, I was discovering the truth of the rule, a rule I’d never explicitly formulated to myself, but whose veracity I’d quite often sensed in a vague sort of way, which was that the chances of seeing an idea through to completion are inversely proportional to the time you’ve spent talking about it beforehand. For the simple reason, it seemed to me, that if you’ve already extracted all the pleasure from the potential joys of a project before you’ve begun it, there remain, by the time you get down to it, only the miseries of the act of creation, its burdens, its labors.
He sits in the park, naked, convinced that this too was ‘working’, “this gradual, progressive opening of the mind, this steady sharpening of the senses? And if not, wasn’t it at least every bit as gratifying?” “If your goal is to write, not writing is surely at least as important as writing.” Interspersed with the procrastination and justification for it, he pokes at the television addiction he’s conquered, noting that it continues unabated all around him… “out in the streets, in the cafes, in the buses and subways, on the radio, in the offices, in every conversation the subject was never anything other than television, as if the very basis of conversation, its single visceral material, had become television…” He also is recruited to water his neighbors’ extensive plant collection and promptly forgets for three weeks, then does a few last minute attempts to remedy, putting the fern in the refrigerator which later prompts a strange scene when he helps them return with their luggage, remembers the fern, and locks himself in the bathroom to climb out the window into their kitchen and remove the fern but leaving the bathroom locked from inside.