Review

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

by Adelle Waldman

A literary twist on a modern love story, THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P. is the romantic chronicles of Nate P, a thirtysomething up-and-coming writer navigating life and love in the Brooklyn literary scene. A little too neurotic for his own good, Nate struggles to find satisfaction in his professional and personal lives. He is always conscious that he “could be doing a little better.”

The book opens with Nate running into an ex-fling, Juliet. The reader learns that the short-lived relationship ended when she had to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. Juliet confronts Nate about his flaccid follow-up to her emotionally distressing situation. He feels a sense of guilt, but very little empathy. Adelle Waldman’s portrayal of Nate’s behavior in this opening scene is cleverly microcosmic of the future relationships that will unfold throughout the novel.

"Waldman's debut offers a fresh perspective on the contemporary dilemma of finding, receiving and securing love in an ever more overwhelming world."
Straight from this confrontation, Nate goes to his ex-girlfriend’s party where he meets Hannah, a girl who is “almost universally regarded as nice and smart, or smart and nice.” Nate is reluctant to begin a relationship with Hannah because she is not conventionally attractive (unlike his ex-girlfriend, Elisa, who is beautiful and high-maintenance). He is too caught up in what his friends will think. Despite his doubts, Nate is drawn to her because she is engaging and smart. Taking the relationship to the next level, they slowly start to seriously date, and Waldman deftly portrays the anxieties inherent in the early stages of dating. She explains and explores Nate’s overarching issues with women by focusing on his petty concerns with Hannah. For example, when Nate brings Hannah to a party, he becomes obsessed with his friends’ perceptions of her. He is ultimately distracted from his own ability to appreciate her on his own terms, thus inhibiting him from pursuing a meaningful relationship.
 
As Nate keeps getting caught up in his own work, Hannah feels increasingly isolated. As a result of Nate's distant behavior, Hannah feels insecure and more needy, which only causes him to become more distant. Because of his narcissistic inclinations, he is unable to see where her loneliness comes from and fails to fulfill her needs. Her natural desires to deepen the relationship alienate Nate, and consequently, the relationship falls apart.
 
Greer, a fellow writer who Nate and his friends had written off as shallow and flighty, flirts with him in a coffee shop and becomes his new love interest. With barely a glance behind him, Nate moves on with her. End of story.
 
Waldman's debut offers a fresh perspective on the contemporary dilemma of finding, receiving and securing love in an ever more overwhelming world. Borrowing from the grand American male tradition of Bellow and Roth, Waldman exposes the more sensitive side of masculine identity. That said, she never succumbs to glamorizing Nate's emotional travails, and always maintains a grounded point of view. She de-romanticizes the experience of finding love. That contrast is what makes Nate's story so compelling and unique. Nate is no Romeo, but he isn't a Stanley Kowalski either. Waldman isn't coming down hard on Nate as an individual; as a part of the "Me" Generation, his selfishness and self-justifying tendencies are just par for the course.
 

Reviewed by Nicole Sherman and Emily Hoenig on July 19, 2013

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
by Adelle Waldman

  • Publication Date: May 6, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Romance
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 1250050456
  • ISBN-13: 9781250050458