Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.," by Adelle Waldman

Adelle Waldman’s novel “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” (Henry Holt, 2013) allows us to get into the head of a young male writer living in Brooklyn (the current headquarters for a huge number of young writers), just as he starts to become successful. The question is: Is his head a place we want to be? In my case, the answer is – not really. Although the novel is narrated in the third person, it is so closely tied to Nate’s every thought, feeling, and action that it might as well be told in the first person. Nate is not a bad guy, but he is extremely self-centered. Even when he is trying to be thoughtful and nice to, say, a girlfriend he is about to dump, he is examining his own behavior to see if he is being genuine or not, worthy or not, etc., etc. All this preening, self-conscious angst is so solipsistic that it becomes highly annoying. This aspect of Nate’s being annoying mixes with another aspect: he is constantly – and I mean constantly -- checking out and judging women. He judges their bodies, their clothes, their beauty (even using the dreaded 10-point scale at times), their voices, their brains, their emotional temperature, and more. To be fair, he realizes he is doing so, and occasionally scolds himself briefly for it, but we never get the sense that he is genuinely sorry, or truly intends to change, and it doesn’t take long for him to return to his old ways. He often comments on the advantages and disadvantages of being single as opposed to having a girlfriend. He is also very aware of his own status, and of how his increasing success allows him to aspire to what he considers a higher level of women to sleep with, date, and perhaps have as a girlfriend. I can’t tell if the author intends Nate to be a sympathetic character (which he is, but only sporadically) or an example of the worst of a particular kind of full-of-himself urban, artsy, preppy, status-conscious young man. Probably a combination of the two. There is of course the interest factor of a female author getting so deeply into a male psyche. And the novel is quite well written. But as I read it, I just couldn’t get over the annoyance factor.

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