This novel centers on the inner life of a writer named Watts who spies a man being pulled under rough water as he tries to save his dog. Watts is helpless, frozen with the hesitation that marks all the decisions he makes in life, and watches the man disappear. This event, which he does not immediately report to the authorities, leads to an assessment of his personal and writing life.
His writing life is at a standstill. Living on government grants under the guise of working on a dissertation, he roams from one place to another, observing the lives and intimacies of others but never so much as putting a toe into the river of his own existence. Watts is a failure with women; he left a young wife and their child to go to his dying motherís side. All well and good, except he carries a deep resentment at this task, wanting only to go to India and write. After his mother dies, he breaks it off with his wife and watches the current of their lives pull them away. He does not go to India but has some success as a writer for a few years.
Watts is a thoroughly selfish man, skimming along the surface of a life focused only on his writing - or rather his desire to write; he doesnít seem to be able to focus long enough to get anything on the page. The subject of his thesis is Creativity and the Writing Process, and for Watts itís all process and no output. Emotion passes through him like a sieve, demonstrated by a brief burst of anger he expresses when he speculates as to whether his ex-wife trapped him into marriage by her pregnancy more than a decade ago. He does not accept responsibility for his part in this creation, nor for any other action in his life. Watts can sustain little beyond any action that keeps him out of gaol and in his PhD supervisorís graces.
McLeod keeps the readers eyes trained to the book despite the lack of appeal of his character. Watts represents the worst of men, the most self-serving part of a obsession. McLeod is a fine writer, and I found his viewpoint on this writerís self-exploration fascinating, though I never came to sympathize with the main character at all.