BOOK

“The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.”

by Rebecca Shapiro
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
By Adelle Waldman
Henry Holt, 256 pages, $25
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The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

Chances are that anyone who has spent time in Brooklyn over the last decade knows a Nate Piven. The “product of a postfeminist, 1980s childhood and politically correct, 1990s college education,” he is a freelance writer with a Harvard degree and an enviable but not life-changing book deal. In The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., the crisp, keenly observant debut novel from Adelle Waldman ’03JRN, the issue is how he deals with women. After spending his twenties hoping to meet a girl who reads Svevo or Bernhard on the subway, he is almost too successful in his thirties: “The more his byline appeared, the more appealing they found him.” But they want commitment, something he isn’t sure he’s ready to give, even to Hannah, who finally seems right — relaxed, pretty, Svevo-reading, and “almost universally regarded as nice and smart.” Much has been written about the Nates of the world (Keith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men is the most obvious and perfectly titled prelude). What makes this take so interesting is that Waldman is a woman, entering Nate’s fictional psyche in what almost feels like a reconnaissance mission on behalf of her gender. Why does this kind of modern man act the way he does? Waldman can’t provide us with a clear answer, but at least her subject comes across as appropriately tortured on the matter. “Contrary to what these women seemed to think,” we are told, Nate “was not indifferent to their unhappiness. And yet he seemed, in spite of himself, to provoke it.”

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