July 2013

A literary darling looking for love

By Adelle Waldman
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“I want to see your book collection.” So goes a classic pickup line from Nathaniel (Nate) Piven, an up-and-coming literary star in Brooklyn whose relationships populate Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. Reminiscent of classic realist novels from authors like Graham Greene or Henry James, this delightful debut jumps headfirst into the mind of one man, revealing what he really thinks about women, dating and success.

From the beginning, readers know that Nate Piven is an anxious guy. He’s anxious about his upcoming book (which sold for a considerable advance, but not quite as much as the sexually explicit memoir from fellow hot, young writer Greer Cohen). He’s anxious about the dinner party thrown by his ex-girlfriend Elisa (who definitely is still in love with him) and he’s anxious about asking out Hannah, Elisa’s good friend. Meanwhile, he’s constantly bumping into his flock of exes, beautiful and brainy literary assistants who seem to come off some sort of assembly line—one can’t help but wonder if Nate’s struggle to commit stems from his having too much nostalgia for his own past.

Nate is a nearly unlikable, yet frighteningly realistic, character—the sort of neurotic, conceited, selfish boor who might have sprung from the mind of Woody Allen. At one point in the novel, Nate’s friend questions why women always want to be in a serious relationship while men rarely do, and it’s this perplexing thought that permeates the story. Does Nate date Hannah because he’s terrified of being alone with his own company? Will he ever have the capacity to develop feelings for another person?

Much of the strength of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. lies in Waldman’s attention to detail, which builds a completely believable depiction of the New York 20- and 30-something dating scene. Although the novel’s ending unfortunately trails off, leaving readers curious about Nate’s ultimate fate, Waldman succeeds in revealing one man’s narcissistic impulses and shortcomings as a boyfriend.

Read an interview with Adelle Waldman about The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

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