It often amazes me how writers can get into the minds of people quite different from themselves and write about them in compelling and interesting ways. Wisconsin-based writer Jennifer Morales did this with her collection of short stories in Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories. Matthew Dicks did this with his novel The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs. Now Adele Waldman does this in The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
Meet Nathaniel Piven, or Nate to his friends and lovers. Without a doubt those of us of the gentler sex are quite familiar with Nate. We have dated them. Some of us have even married a Nate. Who is Nate? Nate is a thirty-something freelance writer living and loving in Brooklyn awaiting the release of his first novel. A majority of his friends are also writers and other assorted creative types. He is also one of the most maddening man-types—the nice guy/douchebag hybrid—the type of guy who has frustrated womankind since the beginning of time.
The nice guy part is the Nate that chooses to be with women are smart, educated and have their own aspirations and ambitions. The douchebag side rejects basically decent women for minor infractions like jiggly upper arms, professional difficulties or showing the wee bit of anger or sadness. In other words, how dare Nate’s girlfriends being actual human beings. And it doesn’t help that one of Nate’s best friends is the detestable Jason, a total jerk who thinks no women is worth it unless she is supermodel hot and has an IQ somewhere hovering around room temperature. Unfortunately, Nate takes Jason’s so-called counsel way too seriously instead of making up his own mind like a grown man should.
At this point Nate is dating Hannah. Hannah is also a writer and is currently struggling with finishing a book proposal for her own book (often writing a book proposal can be more difficult than writing the actual book. Hannah is bright, engaging and seems to have no problem keeping up with Nate’s coterie of literary friends who they hang out with at parties, coffee shops, bars and local restaurants. Like any other woman, Hannah has her own faults (like jiggly arms—the nerve). And she often lets her lack of self-esteem color her decisions like her relationship with Nate, staying with him for far too long. At times, I said to myself, “Hannah, kick Nate to the curb. You deserve so much better.” Of course, I had to take a hard look at myself and examine my own questionable romantic choices.
But back to Nate. While dating Hannah, Nate muses about the girlfriends he had before Hannah including his girlfriends from high school and college (Nate never fails to remind the reader he went to Harvard) to woman he dated before Hannah. Throughout these passages Nate ponders why he was drawn to these women and dated them while being only too quick to point out the qualities that made them only Ms. Right Now, not Ms. Right. Sure, many of these ladies probably weren’t the type to be the Mrs. to Mr. Piven, but a lot of them seemed perfectly decent and quite lovely. And it’s not as if Nate wasn’t a mere Mr. Right Now to some exes and not Mr. Right. But Nate is a bit too self-absorbed at times to realize that he is part of the relationship equation and he has plenty of work to do to be an ideal husband.
Does Nate stay with Hannah or does he look for greener pastures when it comes to the fairer sex? Well, you’ll just have to read the book. Though at times a frustrating, Nate is an absorbing character. Adelle Waldman expertly writes about a man who at turns is both simple and complex. I also appreciated how she captured the world of freelance writers, publishers, authors and other creative types that populate the Big Apple. And though I live in flyover country I could totally relate to writer scene that makes up Nate’s friends, one of support and competition, pretentious and neuroticism.
And I must admit The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P made me take a hard look at myself and all the time I wasted on the Nates in my life. No doubt female readers of this book will have their own alphabet of Nate Ps. And as for the male readers of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel, I hope this novel makes them examine their own romantic choices and examine them with more maturity and clarity.