53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2013
Early on in The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., the protagonist makes the following observation: "What he didn't say--why aid the prosecution's case?--was that the kind of writing he preferred seemed inherently masculine. The writers who impressed him most weren't animated by a sense of personal grievance. (They were unlikely to, say, write poems called 'Mommy.')" In many ways, Adelle Waldman's first novel can be read as a response to this (I'm willing to wager) fairly widely-held if rarely spoken literary-male sense of what "women's writing" is; a sense that Waldman, with consummate intelligence and sensitivity, responds to with something much more interesting than mere refutation. She has written the most elegant and fair-minded novel animated by personal grievance imaginable.
This gesture seems to me characteristic of what Waldman does throughout Love Affairs, which, though it risks, in its subtlety, being dismissed as chick lit, or maybe worse, a kind of Brooklyn-hipster-chicklit (see the godawful NPR review for this kind of shameful misreading) has to be read in the tradition in which Waldman is so evidently well-schooled: the 19th-century novel of manners. Like Austen she is nowhere stylistically flashy and everywhere in perfect command of her prose. Perhaps more significantly, though, Waldman is committed to a kind of sympathetic and clear-eyed presentation of Nate. The book is no mere exposé of the familiar irony that the "sensitive guy" is often nevertheless kind of a schmuck. What stings is the fact that Nate really *is* a pretty good guy, and his frequent, borderline-misogynist observations about women (like the one above) are never entirely devoid of truth; indeed, Waldman shows us not only Nate's squirminess, but makes us feel it, makes even a female reader who identifies with Hannah, as so many of us will, feel the way she inadvertently triggers Nate's growing sense of claustrophobia. The result of this balancing act is that the moments when Nate really is awful--and he is, sometimes, rather awful--it is disappointment and sadness that one feels, rather than righteous indignation. In this way, in every way, it is a highly disciplined novel; Waldman never goes for the easy laugh--that kind of dismissiveness always shown to be a kind of moral failure.
In the end, this is the aspect of the book that most impressed me: the fact that it is an unabashedly moral book without ever being priggish or preachy. Waldman looks long and hard at the source of Hannah's grievance, with sympathy that neither obscures her clarity of vision nor lapses into caricature.
44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2013
An emerging consensus among researchers suggests that middle class college men and women prefer one or another type of hooking-up to an ongoing, all-in relationship. It seems that young men seek no-strings-attached sex with a variety of women; young women, on the other hand, are focused on an education and future career, which they don't want to jeopardize by getting overly involved in a time-consuming romance, especially given its high probability of failure. But what happens after graduation, when jobs have been secured and life has settled into more of a routine? Do goals change? For both men and women? And have years of casual sex altered the way in which relationships are viewed? The way in which love is perceived and given and experienced?
In The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman offers us an intimate and insightful take on this interesting and profoundly important topic, at least for that demographic of urban, upper-middle class graduates of top-tier colleges. She does this primarily by helping us to understand why Nathaniel Piven treats women the way he does, which is to say why he misleads them (into believing he is not averse to an actual relationship when he is; by telling one that he is very much into their relationship - that it is therefore "safe" - when he is not, and it is not; when he recommends to a girlfriend that they "keep on trying" despite knowing the relationship is over; by continually sleeping with an ex-girlfriend; by pretending to not be backing out a relationship when he is); exploits their perceived vulnerabilities (their deep need for a relationship; their "hunger for connection;" their distaste for being alone; their quickness to trust); and rationalizes away his subsequent guilt (he did not, after all, promise them anything; besides, they should have listened when he told them he wasn't looking for anything serious; and this or that one was too clingy or often hysterical or a little nuts; and he just can't help how he behaves; and, oh, suddenly he's responsible for both his own feelings and for hers too?)
This is not really a book about love. When two different female characters tell Nate they love him, he responds only with "me too" to one and with something unintelligible mumbled into the hair of the other. If love requires honesty and courage and attentiveness and reciprocity and - God forbid - sacrifice, Nate does not love any of these women. And if he does not change his character radically (which may of course be impossible), he will not love anyone. Ever. His heart has been replaced by "the cool eye of the seasoned appraiser, who above all knows how to calculate the market rate." He is fully aware of his interests, which he believes are based not upon giving but getting... the prettier girl or the thinner one or the better deal. He's become sufficiently distrustful to prevent getting "entangled" in a needy woman's web or "ensnared" in a clever one's trap, which is how he sees the mutual obligations that define a relationship.
This is a book about what happens when love becomes a commodity and the market collapses, and buyers like Nate can receive love or something very close to it for nothing in return. He does not have to be a good man to get it; in his social realm, it is enough to be "smart."
In this world, we are left with an intelligent thirty year old man who is fine with living alone in his tiny Brooklyn apartment, eating micro-wave pizzas for one, spending time in the local coffee shop "because sometimes you just want to see another human being," yet wondering if he has lost the capacity to truly be with another person.
If, today, a young woman is interested in understanding the ill-defined cultural paths to a genuine relationship, she may wish to avoid the often insipid self-help books that are available and start instead with The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
If, in fifty years, someone is interested in finding out what went on in the minds of those who in the early part of this century turned their backs on meaningful relationships, family life, neighborhood, and community, he or she would do well to avoid much of what social scientists tell us and start, instead, with this book.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Waldman's debut novel is poised and sharp and both funny and poignant. It narrates the confusing and never quite satisfying love life of a young writer (his first novel comes out soon and he got a six figure advance for it). It starts with a chance meeting with a former girlfriend: when she got pregnant -a broken condom-- he paid for the abortion, even held her hand while she waited in the clinic, but then speedily drifted away, never to connect with her again. He tries to pass her off with pleasantries but she sees there's no connection. "You're an a**hole," she says, and leaves him.
He really kind of is. But he really kind of isn't, too. He tries to be ethical in his relations with women, just so long as it doesn't entail too much effort. (Involvement = effort for Nate.) The real problem is ambivalence. He starts out hot in a relationship but quickly cools down. He misses his privacy, aloneness, a space where he doesn't have to consider others except as distant objects. He is quick to notice flaws in his significant other of the moment.
The "product of a postfeminist, 1980s childhood and politically correct, 1990s college education, he had learned all about male privilege. Moreover he was in possession of a functional and frankly rather clamorous conscience." His writing shows that: he is writing an essay on how "we get other people to do things we're too morally thin-skinned to do ourselves. ... Conscience is [our] ultimate luxury."
Elisa, Juliet, Kristen -all his girlfriends to date have been temporary. But now he's met Hannah and, almost against his will, he digs being around her. She's smart. Witty some times. They have views in common but she doesn't mind telling him when she thinks he's wrong. She contradicts all his preconceived notions about how women think and what they are interested in. That's during the courtship phase. But then he starts chafing at being tied down, confined The more he chafes, the farther away from her he pulls. She notices his coolness and tries to woo him back -there're sexy undergarments and bedclothes and rough stuff in bed, she's over-concerned for his feelings. But the bloom is off the rose for Nate. He notices Hannah's long hairs in the bathroom sink and is irritated. One evening, she wears a thin-strapped tank top when they go out and he notices that, attractive as she is, "the skin underneath [her arms] jiggled as little bit, like as much older woman's. ... He felt bad for noticing and worse for being a little repelled." When she goes to the ladies' room, he notices that "the jeans she wore made her bottom half look bigger than her top half" and wonders why she hadn't noticed it herself.
Waldman's dissection of Nate's inner thoughts is right on the mark. If we're honest about it, most men will admit they've had moments like Nate's, when infatuation disappears and disaffection nudges our consciousness, looking for an excuse to surface. But the lucky ones have the reverse experience too, when affection for a woman makes her suddenly more attractive than before.
Nate's problem is that by temperament, upbringing and profession, he's a fence sitter. He wants what he doesn't have; then when he gets it, he wants something else. He doesn`t like being unattached but when he connects with someone, he starts longing for solitude so he can work on his precious essays, reviews and a new book proposal. By the end of the book, he's in a relationship that just might, maybe, work out but even then he is longing for what he lost when he gave up Hannah.
Waldman's virtues as a novelist are many. Her prose is crisp, the plotting sure, her characters believable and engaging. She succeeds in the difficult task of getting inside the head of, not just other women, but the men in this tale -Nate and his friends. She makes a character whose behavior and innermost thoughts are repulsive at times into a real, emotionally conflicted person, who doesn't want to be the way he is but just is. Lastly, Waldman adeptly balances humor, lightly applied, with sympathy, to create a full-fleshed character where tit would have been easy to caricature. This is a good novel.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Adelle Waldman's debut novel is about a particular type of guy that many women will surely recognize. An overeducated, underemployed manchild who can't quite seem to grow up even as success is knocking at the door of his squalid walk-up. He's a serial monogamist stubbornly unable to commit to an adult relationship between equals.
Yet, somehow he's not exactly a bad guy...or anything.
If you're a fan of Sex and the City you may recall that of all the lotharios and ladies-men that Carrie dated, it was the schlubby, self-effacing writer, Berger, who broke up with her in the most humiliating way - on a post-it note. And Nate, Waldman's protagonist, is cut from precisely the same mold. The story is told through his point of view, so we get a glimpse into his mindset, his history with women and how he perceives his own eligibility [or lack thereof] relative to the other men in his social circle. Believe me, this guy does not see himself as a player by any stretch. Yet somehow, this doesn't stop him from leaving a string of extremely pissed off , broken-hearted women in his wake.
But The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is actually about more than just one man's trouble with commitment, and the key can be found in a conversation that takes place early in the book. Nate attends a dinner party with members of the Brooklyn hipster literati hosted by one of his many ex-girlfriends. When asked what he's currently working on, Nate describes a piece about the American habit of outsourcing cheap labor, which incites a debate about how the liberal elite are willing to pay more at a store like Whole Foods for the privilege of feeling ethically pure. Nate's thesis is that, "...conscience is the ultimate luxury," and it's something he certainly affords himself when justifying his treatment of the women in his life. And I think this is the universal theme at the very heart of Waldman's tale.
After all, everyone finds ways of excusing their own bad behavior in order to live with themselves.
This is a fast, entertaining read. The writing is sharp and funny. The characters are challenging, hyper-literate and full of barbed wit. If you are a fan of Woody Allen, Whit Stillman, Noah Baumbach or HBO's comedy, Girls, you're sure to find something to like in The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2013
In "The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.," Ms. Waldman tells the tale of a rising star in the literary circles of New York, where with his increasing fame, women eye him as a prized commodity when once they would barely spare him a passing glance. The bulk of the story centers around Nate and his relationship with Hannah, a woman described as "smart and nice" or "nice and smart" and the subsequent erosion of his once great feelings.
The look into Nate's life is both stark, disturbing, and yet so real. Moments of levity are overshadowed by the train wreck that is Nate, his absolute callous treatment of women while espousing his beliefs in feminism are cringe-worthy. Ms. Waldman makes no apologies for Nate's behavior and for readers who are hoping for one, they will be disappointed.
Despite the constant flurry of social commentary and intellectualism, the supporting characters come across as vacuous. Aurit is the only woman in the story that Nate seems to have any respect for. (They also never dated.) She seems to represent the intelligent woman who speaks her mind and has it together while dealing with her less-than-together friend. Jason, represents the typical man who is after the hottest woman around and the one woman he actually has feelings for, he is too afraid to confide in. But it is Jason who summarizes the book perfectly:
"As a rule, men want a reason to end a relationship, while women want a reason to keep it going," Jason declared, waving his glass. "That's why, after the fact, men look to all the things that were wrong with the relationships, to confirm the rightness of ending it. Women, on the other hand, go back and search for what might have been different, what might have made it work."
Yet Ms. Waldman tries too hard. There is too much commentary about the macro-socioeconomic plights that plague the world, too many references about the changes in Brooklyn (gentrification), too much messaging overall that her true message is lost. Because what of Nathaniel P.? Wasn't the book really about him?
3 of 5 stars
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2014
If you want an engaging story with characters you care about, read something else. This book is a tedious, self-indulgent wave of unending internal monologues and speculation, supposedly in critique of tedious, self-indugent literary types. There are some very pleasantly phrases passages, and some well-described details, but in sum, it just doesn't make for a good or even mildly affecting story.
At the close of every chapter I asked myself again and again...why continue? Given the hype, I had hoped something might really surprise or shake me up, make me care just a bit for Nate, or any of his maligned "love affairs." But it ended even more disappointing than I had expected.
The only readers who I think will really enjoy this book either 1) live in Brooklyn and want to read about their literary universe there 2) are dating annoying guys who are self-involved 3) feel motivated purely by gossip to read about the intimate ways everyone judges each other.
If you are looking for genuine insight, a touching story or anything remotely transportive, this is not your book.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2013
How unusual and how satisfying to explore a character who has gotten shallow treatment in much of the literature, film, and television of the past century: the self-absorbed yet compelling male protagonist, Nate P., the young man on the make, the thoughtful but flawed hero who has all the intellect he needs to build his career and social status but only enough emotional intelligence to make promises and then deliver disappointment, especially to the women he dates, none of whom for any amount of wit, strength, beauty or charm seem able to escape Nate's painful patterns. Until the right one comes along? What does that even mean? That's the question, with all its twists, that reveals itself to be much more complex than we usually have the guts to acknowledge.
This novel is a study of emotional accountability -- or the frightening lack of it -- in the lives of today's twenty- and thirty-somethings. For those who have watched this cohort with some horror, wondering where their text messages will lead them, as well as for those who are part of this cohort and have a sneaky feeling that something has gone seriously wrong, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is the novel that will be your guidebook. Yet even as it works out the nuances of social, professional and romantic battles amongst today's urban privileged, it does so with the calm wisdom and sparkling sentences of an earlier literary tradition, paced and plotted with the patience of a Jane Austen or George Eliot novel. The tensions that Waldman explores -- between men behaving badly and occasionally feeling bad about it, and women trying to be "cool" while also trying to be true to themselves -- are somehow both precisely current and entirely timeless. This book is not for the faint of heart, however, and it's not for the reader who wants a rom-com ending. At times I found it painful, and more than once I was moved to tears, but ultimately I could hardly put it down for a break even with all the difficult feelings it brought up.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2013
It's all about the challenges, or even the futility, of trying to make an intimate relationship work without the L word - feeling it, not just uttering it. And of course you can't invent it if it's not there, so any criticism of the book for not providing a guide to making relationships work is misplaced.
Adelle Waldman has done a superb a job of getting inside the mind of the opposite sex - almost as good as Arthur Golden in Memoirs of a Geisha, and were I not twice the age of most of her characters, and therefore admittedly out of touch with her scene, I might have realized she did a perfect job.
I loved the way she skirted around the sterile MFA admonition to show not tell. Some of the best writing in the book was in passages where she used the thin veil of a character's recollection to expound sensitively, perceptibly and beautifully upon the emotional ups and downs of a past relationship.
Don't be put off by the title's implications of emotional navel-gazing. When it's there, it's deftly crafted; for the most part, the author keeps such a tight rein on the story, interest never flags.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2013
I embarked upon this book with no preconceptions as to the book's structure or message, and so found it an exhilarating and almost voyeuristic trip through the minds of insightful but ultimately confused characters. Adelle Waldman has chosen to write a novel that refuses easy categorization as comedy, tragedy, parody, or yet another unnecessary addition to the ever growing literature of Female Complaint. Nate and his friends transcend mere stereotype. The dialog and interior monologues are full of surprising apercus. Nate Piven's relationships are of course the narrative thread of the book, but the heart of the book is the inability of every one of these cognitively agile characters to turn their many acute insights into something approaching wisdom. The thematic takeaway for me was that each of us is forced to experience life for the first and only time, so we only dimly appreciate the inevitable trajectories that we must trace as we reconcile our needs for affection, novelty, status, and sex with cultural and biological imperatives not of our making. Recommended.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Nate Piven has been given everything in life: a comfy upbringing, a Harvard education, a successful writing career in New York, including the coveted book deal. Yet he just can't seem to man up when it comes to relationships. I love how Adelle Waldman gets into Nate's mind and creates such a realistic character. Although the story isn't a particularly uplifting one, I found myself laughing a lot. And I love that she doesn't write a Disney ending, but rather one that would happen in real life. I can't wait to read more of her work.