We first meet the handsome and writerly Nate Piven (aka “Nathaniel P.”), the protagonist of Adelle Waldman’s funny, lovingly-written debut novel, at a run-in with a former flame. It doesn’t go well. “You’re an asshole,” she squeezes in just before jetting away, leaving Nate to come to terms with the fact that he’s become the kind of guy that girls call an asshole.
It’s not that Nate’s a bad guy, he’s just figuring things out. And through the pages of Waldman’s book we watch him try to make sense of his budding literary life in Brooklyn—pestering editors for freelance work, enviously watching his more successful peers, attempting to make good with an unhappy ex, landing his own first book deal, and eventually, falling face first into a serious relationship.
For fans of Girls or Noah Baumbach films, this isn’t necessarily new territory, but Waldman keeps it fresh with her characters—there’s Aurit, his strong-willed female best friend whose opinion he values most; Jason, the bro he longs to impress; Eugene, a fellow writer who stokes Nate’s competitive nature; and Hannah, a fellow writer in the middle of a book proposal who catches Nate’s eye. What Waldman knows best is the complicated nature of these relationships, and the balance of power that constantly shifts from person to person.
Waldman’s prose is spirited and thoughtfully crafted, and especially interesting considering she’s writing from a male point of view. I relished the times I could hear her simple observations (or perhaps conversations she’s overheard IRL) about sex and relationships coming out of her characters’ mouths. Nate’s theory that “…in a certain sense, and only in a certain sense, it’s harder for men to say no to sex than it is for women,” sparked a hilarious debate at a party I was at. And I laughed when I read that “Jason had a theory that girls who offer to pay on dates suffer from low self-esteem. They don’t feel they deserve to be paid for; it’s a sign there’s something wrong with the girl.”
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is a snapshot of a young man on the brink of success, during a time when greatness seems attainable yet just out of reach. Through bouts of selfishness and head-spinning romantic drama, we watch Nate grow and change. For us, and for Nate, Waldman’s promising debut offers a funny, sometimes surprising look at these wonder years.