Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (Waldman)

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. 
Adelle Waldman, 2013
Henry Holt
256 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780805097450

Bold, touching, and funny—a debut novel by a brilliant young woman about the coming-of-age of a brilliant young literary man

“He was not the kind of guy who disappeared after sleeping with a woman—and certainly not after the condom broke. On the contrary: Nathaniel Piven was a 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.” – From The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

Nate Piven is a rising star in Brooklyn’s literary scene. After several lean and striving years, he has his pick of both magazine assignments and women: Juliet, the hotshot business reporter; Elisa, his gorgeous ex-girlfriend, now friend; and Hannah, “almost universally regarded as nice and smart, or smart and nice,” who is lively fun and holds her own in conversation with his friends.

In this 21st-century literary world, wit and conversation are not at all dead. Is romance? Novelist Adelle Waldman plunges into the psyche of a modern man—who thinks of himself as beyond superficial judgment, yet constantly struggles with his own status anxiety, who is drawn to women, yet has a habit of letting them down. With tough-minded intelligence and wry good humor The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is an absorbing tale of one young man’s search for happiness—and an inside look at how he really thinks about women, sex and love. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Education—B.A., Brown University; M.A., Columbia
Currently—lives in Brooklyn, New York, New York

Adelle Waldman is a graduate of Brown University and Columbia University's journalism school. She worked as a reporter at the New Haven Register and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal's website. Her articles also have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, New Republic, Slate, Wall Street Journal, and other national publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
[A] smart, engaging 21st-century comedy of manners in which the debut novelist Adelle Waldman crawls convincingly around inside the head of one Nathaniel (Nate) Piven.... Nate is like a jigsaw puzzle.... [A]fter you’ve invested way too much time, you are going to realize that key pieces are missing. (Empathy? Self-awareness?).... This is also a book about a scene—the Brooklyn literary thing.... But Brooklyn feels a bit perfunctory, maybe a little stale (everyone apparently knows everyone in Brooklyn). A fuzzy sameness blurs the descriptions. ­“Francesca was a prettyish, stylish writer who’d been extremely successful with her first book at a young age.” They come at you in bland waves, these attractive young writers working for important magazines with six-figure deals whose books are long-listed for fairly prestigious prizes. Maybe it’s just hard to imagine—being one of the 13 American writers who don’t live in New York — but really: attractive writers? When did they start making those?
Jess Walter - New York Times Book Review

Adelle Waldman's debut novel…scrutinizes Nate and the subculture that he thrives in with a patient, anthropological detachment. Ms. Waldman has sorted and cross-categorized the inhabitants of Nate's world with a witty, often breathtaking precision, one eye always on the crude sexual politics of the culture industry…there are many rewards to be had in the elegant, careful way [Waldman] makes sense of Nate's struggle to be both a good person and a sexual person. This book takes seriously the question of romantic compatibility—of why we end up with one person and not another—and foregrounds the question of whether it's a subject even worth paying attention to…There is something beguiling about the very project of teasing out the thought processes of someone like Nate, who so often cuts and runs, avoiding spelling things out when feelings get complicated.
Maria Russo - New York Times

[A] pitch-perfect debut… In the demure tradition of the comedy of manners, Ms. Waldman is rarely mocking or mean-spirited.... Full disclosure: The setting of this novel is one with which I'm cringingly familiar. But even if you find hipster Brooklyn alien territory, Ms. Waldman's surgical skewering of its pretensions and hang-ups is a comic performance you shouldn't miss.
Wall Street Journal

Bright young men, do you feel that chilly wind of exposure? Somehow, Adelle Waldman has stolen your passive-aggressive playbook and published it in her first novel…Waldman offers a delectable analysis of contemporary dating among literary wannabes. You might think it'd be easier to find a parking space in Manhattan than to say anything new about that subject, but this dark comedy delivers one prickling insight after another…Neither chick lit nor lad lit…Waldman has captured a whole group of privileged people who've been seduced into believing that their choice of a spouse is just one more consumer purchase—like an expensive coffee maker, something to be considered according to its pros and cons and then constantly reevaluated for how much it satisfies the original expectations.
Ron Charles - Washington Post

Incisive and very funny… This is an impressive book, full of sharp and amusing observations about urban life, liberal pieties and modern dating—that minefield of "intimate inspections" that often yields more loneliness than romance. Though Nate has an archetypal quality—his mix of lofty ideals and poor behaviour is not uncommon among the triumphant ex-nerds of literary Brooklyn—Ms Waldman has skilfully rendered him both fascinating and sympathetic. He is a man of his age, though his strengths and weaknesses are timeless.

Fiendishly readable… Most importantly, Waldman gets the big detail right: When it comes to women, Nate’s "clamorous conscience" comes into conflict with the exercise of his natural advantages as a single, successful, attractive heterosexual man in a sexual economy that, for him, is very much a buyer’s market…. He is misogynistic and ashamed of his misogyny.
Marc Tracy - New Republic

Although the novel is about his love affairs in Brooklyn, this is really a novel that reveals—astutely—how Nate thinks…. The book is an exacting character study and Waldman an excellent and witty prose stylist…. [Nate] is a frog in a wax tray, sliced open and pinned back, his innermost private thoughts on display for inspection by the reader…. One must read the magical ending to understand that although his thoughts on women will leave many outraged, his dissected frog's heart still beats.
Jennifer Gilmore -  Los Angeles Times

While Lena Duham's TV series Girls and Noah Baumbach's film Frances Ha have reaffirmed Brooklyn's status as the capital of hipster cool, Waldman's debut novel offers a more critical look at the district's arty milieu... Her writing displays an awareness that the Brooklynites' middle-class problems don't amount to a hill of fair trade coffee beans in the real world. This is brilliantly observed stuff.
David Evans - Financial Times (London)

Every so often... a novel comes along that actually deserves the hype. Adelle Waldman's outstanding debut is one of these.... The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is really something much darker, funnier, and more profound. It fixes for all time on the page a very particular type of man— the contemporary up-and-coming literary intellectual. And it isn't a pretty sight.... Psychologically astute, subtle, funny and whip-smart, this is a novel that anyone interested in how we live now should read.... With the insinuating sharpness of a stiletto blade, Waldman opens up Nate's interior to show us the mess inside.... she pieces together a portrait of contemporary upper-middle-class manhood. The level of insight is bracing... On every page of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. there is something that gives pleasure— the prose is razor-sharp, the characters in all their pretentions are lovingly skewered. This month's hot novel it may be, but this is a book that will bear repeated readings; funny, angry, subtle and sad, it is the debut of a novelist who's already the real, achieved thing. Highly recommended.
Sunday Business Post (London)

The best debut novel of the summer.… It’s hard to know whether Adelle Waldman’s portrait of Brooklyn’s sad young literary men in The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is meant to be scathing satire or plain realism, but frankly, you won’t give a damn…. Waldman’s gift is to give voice to the minute calculations and fickle desires of modern manhood as we cringe and read just one more chapter, and then another, and then another.
Kira Henehan - GQ

Brooklynite Nathaniel Piven, “a product of a postfeminist, 1980s childhood,” is the modern male...[who] hates feeling guilty over the many women he hurts ... and [has earned] a rep for being “the kind of guy women call an asshole.” .... An acute study of present-day struggles with intimacy, Waldman seems to suggest that love is too constricting a tie for the 21st century, and that, perhaps, a different kind of connection might better define the contemporary couple. She navigates the male psyche and a highly entertaining hipster mindset, and sneaks in an unexpected, understated ending that brings this pulpy read a satisfying poignancy.
Publishers Weekly

Nathaniel P. is...[t]he sensitive, artistic sort who secretly turns out to be passive-aggressive and adverse to long-term commitment.... Waldman's debut ...makes this character the protagonist, and she builds such a solid point of view for her creation that the reader is drawn in despite the somewhat depressing subject matter.... Tales of relationship struggles are common, [but] Waldman takes a cliche and turns it on its ear.... For fans of relationship literature and those who prefer their summer reading sour instead of sweet. —Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend
Library Journal

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.
Megan Fishmann - Bookpage

Nate Piven's affairs are convoluted, to say the least, and some of his relationships seem to come right out of Seinfeld episodes.... Throughout the narrative, Waldman also flashes us back to Nate's earlier girlfriends, pals and hookups. The characters that populate Waldman's world are artistic, creative, funny and intelligent—except when it comes to matters of the heart, for they are constitutionally incapable of making long-term commitments. It would be refreshing to find one mature adult.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. How does Nate see himself, and how does this differ from the way his girlfriends see him? What is your view of Nate? Does he come off as pretentious? As a womanizer? Are you able to sympathize with his thoughts or actions? If you had to summarize what his main character flaw is, what would you say?

2. “Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. You’re sizing people up to see if they’re worth your time and attention, and they’re doing the same to you.... We submit ourselves to these intimate inspections and simultaneously inflict them on others and try to keep our psyches intact.” Do you agree with this summary of the nature of dating? Is it as overwhelming as it is described, or is it really not “that big of a deal” as Nate believes?

3. The book delves into the psyche of a man, yet it is written by a woman. What effect does this have on the overall conversation and tone of the narrative? How would it be different if a man had written the book?

4. Do the male and female characters in the book seem to behave in ways that conform to or differ from our evolving conceptions of gender roles? Does the book present a world in which men and women are equal? If not, what inequalities seem to persist?

5. At one point, Nate wonders if he is a misogynist. He says that when he reads “something he admired…there was about an 80 percent chance a guy wrote it.” Do you think Nate is a misogynist? Later Hannah tells him that he “is treated like a big shot because he is a guy and has the arrogant sense of entitlement to ask for and expect to get everything he wanted.” Do you think the fact that Nate is male benefi ts him in terms of his career and the way he is seen in the world? He alsosilently criticizes Hannah for not working as hard at her writing as he does at his. Is that a fair criticism?

6. Aurit is the only major female character in the story who does not have a romantic history with Nate. Why is this, and what role does she play in the story and in Nate’s life?

7. Despite the fact that Nate initially found Hannah to be different from the other women he had dated, his attitude toward her eventually begins to change. Do you think there is a legitimate reason for this change? Or does it refl ect a limitation of Nate’s? What do you think keeps the relationship going after the initial excitement has died down?

8. Why does Hannah agree to salvage her relationship with Nate multiple times after it begins to turn sour? She says she feels “ashamed of [her]self” for changing for Nate and for making allowances for his bad behavior because she cares for him. Do you think that there is a difference in the way men and women change throughout a relationship? Is it necessary to change for your partner, and if so to what extent?

9. Nate has relationships with many different kinds of women, and yet he can’t seem to be content with any of them—Kristen the socially conscious do-gooder, Elisa the beautiful, and Hannah, who exhibits both cool and intelligence. Nat wonders, “Why [do] women say men [are] threatened by women who challenge them?” Do you believe that, in spite of his claim not to be, Nate may be threatened on some level? Is he truly fi nding himself incompatible with these women, or are his breakups results of his own insecurities? All of them or only certain ones?

10. Nate is largely infl uenced during his time in college by his male friends. How much of one’s mindset is infl uenced by his peers during these formative years in his life? Do you think that Nate would have had a different outlook on women and relationships had he chosen to associate with a different group of friends? Consider the male characters in the novel. What role do they play in Nate’s life, and how do they still infl uence the way he thinks?

11. Discuss the idea of being seen through others’ eyes in the context of the book. Throughout this novel, we see Nate’s views on others and also his thoughts on how people view him. Do you feel that it is a natural feeling to be validated through others’ opinions? Do we need reassurance from our partners in order to accept ourselves?

12. What do you think Nate takes away from each relationship, if anything? At the end of the novel, is Nate in a relationship that will last?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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