Playing House

by zunguzungu

I’m sort of fascinated by this article on Lee Child’s pretend possession-free lifestyle (via). I say “pretend” because it’s such a pose, and the writer, Nancy Keates, very subtly insinuates that pretense into her article:

Best-selling crime writer Lee Child admits to fantasizing about a life like that of the hero of his books, Jack Reacher, a possession-free maverick who travels from place to place and has no permanent address…instead Mr. Child lives in a two-room apartment in the Flatiron district that’s architecturally stark, wrapped in white and bereft of rugs, curtains, side tables or accessories. The entire left-hand wall—stretching from the white Corian kitchen counter along the living space and to the windows that open to a small balcony—is a plane of glossy white laminate cabinetry. Inside the cabinets are some 3,000 books, as Mr. Child believes books make a room visually chaotic and that displaying them is pretentious. The books are shelved randomly; Mr. Child said his photographic memory allows him to know exactly where each one sits.

“Pretentious” is the key word there; putting books on shelves is pretentious but displaying how you have books but don’t display them (and managing to mention your “photographic memory”) is, of course, puritan modesty. It’s not chance that Keates put those sentences side by side. And the later anecdotes of how “Mr. Child always laughs at things she has around her house, asking what she needs stuff for,” is sort of priceless; I bet this guy is just tons of fun to hang out with. It’s just icing on the cake that despite all the sound and fury about not needing “stuff,” Mr. Childs has another apartment in the same building that’s cluttered with all sorts of paraphernalia:

“lots of visible books, New Yorker cartoons, Reacher paraphernalia and a “technology museum” consisting of all his old cellphones and his first laptop. “I need a stimulating environment to write because my books are driven at 100 miles per hour at a time,” he explained.”

In other words, what he has is two living spaces: one where he can put his collection of material possessions, and one where he can put his ego, his fantasy of being a “possession-free maverick.” What a delightful buffoon. He doesn’t need a kitchen because he’s a rich man who can afford to have other people do his cooking and he can afford to throw away a shirt when a button falls off not because “he doesn’t want to store a sewing kit” but because he’s a very, very rich man who can take possessions for granted to such an extent that he can delude himself into imagining he doesn’t have them.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I laugh because I feel the appeal of the fantasy. Having just moved, I’m very much aware of how much stupid stuff I possess. But I don’t keep things like all my old cell phones, and am quite comfortable with the level of pack-ratishness I maintain. So it’s hilarious to see the fantasy of independence floating through Lee Child’s dream life, a life in which losing his credit card would doubtless mean a day without food. Things like not having a kitchen, after all, just signal all the ways he’s utterly dependent on strangers to feed him, as does his inability to sew a button on his shirt. Yet how does buying things with money make you independent while making them yourself is being burdened by possessions? A good Marxist-Freudian could do all sorts of things with the way the commodity fetish is making social relations and class vanish into the void here (the sort of thing Up in the Air should have done but didn’t). But I’ve got a dissertation to write and papers to grade, so I’ll leave that to you.