I am in my 40s, with three kids and a busy life that revolves around logistics and work and making sure that the little people that depend on me are generally clothed and fed and prepared for their days, whether that includes homework or potty training or birthday presents for their friends or any number of other activities and obligations that fill up my to-do list. What I really don’t do these days is analyze the romantic relationship in my life ad nauseam, either in my head or with my friends. (Not that I even see my friends anymore.)
But there was a time in my life when I did analyze the romantic relationship in my life ad nauseam, both in my head and with my friends, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was analyzing their romantic relationships. I sure wish that I had read The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. back then – it might have made things a bit clearer. (But probably only a bit.)
Adelle Waldman’s debut novel is about the romantic exploits of Nate, a late twentysomething freelance writer living in Brooklyn with his first novel on the way. Nate is Ivy-educated, doesn’t have a TV, reads philosophy and has close female friends. He’s generally considered a “nice guy” by his friends. And yet, when it comes to women, he’s frustratingly inconsistent and, honestly, what we would have called an a–hole back in the day. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. focuses mostly on one of Nate’s doomed relationships: five months with Hannah, another writer who Nate really likes in the beginning, and then gradually becomes unhappy with. Waldman skillfully infiltrates the male psyche to reveal the reasons – or lack thereof- for Nate’s disenchantment with Hannah. She’s smart, she’s not hysterical, she’s fit, his friends like her, the sex is good – so what is it? Why does Nate start pulling back and slowly driving her crazy with his inconsistent affections and moody aggressiveness?
Nate isn’t really sure, and at the end of book, neither was I. But I certainly enjoyed the glimpse into his private thoughts, and the insights that 1) sometimes what men want out of relationships doesn’t really make sense; and 2) men don’t really care to spend the time figuring out what they want or why things didn’t work out. There is such a telling moment at the end of the book when Hannah writes Nate a very long, analytical, ponderous email about the demise of their relationship and possible ways that it could have been saved – to which Nate doesn’t even respond – which is followed by Nate’s admission that he barely thought about Hannah after they broke up.
This book should be required reading for women in their 20s, if for no other reason than to save hours of emotional analysis and discussion, retreading of tired relationship battles and theories, because sometimes there just isn’t a good reason for why men act as they do.
Waldman’s writing is sharp and insightful and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Lots of entertaining observations here about Brooklyn and hipsters and the NY literary scene. I especially liked this passage, in which Nate describes a young woman that one of his friends has just started dating:
Suddenly, Nate felt a bit sorry for her. She was pretty, self-possessed, and intelligent enough, but she was fresh out of school and repeating opinions that were no doubt fashionable there. In time, she would catch the tone of New York. Her schoolmarmishness was provincial. Here it was all about the counterintuitive. She’d learn. Besides, being pretty, self-possessed, and intelligent enough would go a long way, and if she wasn’t well-connected before she started dating Mark, she would be now.
I started The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. on audio, and only listened to 1 or 2 CDs before it made more sense for me to read it instead. The audio was very good, with narration by Nick Podehl that was basically perfect other than his female voices, which were insultingly girly and exaggerated. He did make me laugh out loud several times in the short time I listened to him, so if you like audiobooks, give this one a try. I was sad that I missed out. (Just be forwarned about the women.)
I am surprised that this book has gotten such mixed reviews – there is a lot of hate for it out there. I definitely enjoyed it and am glad I picked it up.