The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
Cast as ‘this generation’s Jane Austen’, Adelle Waldman’s debut novel – a work of intelligent, amusing social commentary – centres on Nathaniel Piven, a thirty-something book critic living in Brooklyn, New York. The story follows Nate as he navigates the women in his orbit: Elisa, his ex-girlfriend and a publishing assistant at a ‘Very Important Magazine’; Juliet, a girl he dated casually and who he accidentally got pregnant; Greer Cohen, recently offered a $400,000 book advance; and the tough-talking Aurit, Nate’s only platonic female friend. The main focus of the novel spans his relationship with Hannah: ‘He hadn’t exactly changed his mind about wanting to be in a relationship. But now that he’d met Hannah, now that he found that he liked her, he couldn’t see any other way to be.’ It’s telling of his character that what Nate likes about Hannah is her ‘intelligent, novelistic way of describing people’. To earn money, Hannah writes health news for the Times’ website while she is working on a book proposal.
Nate too, has recently secured a book deal. Most of the characters in Waldman’s novel are freelance writers or editorial assistants, and The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. offers a fizzy, perceptive look at the New York publishing industry. Nate, beginning his career as a legal proofreader has, by now, seemingly patched together an ‘actual career’ as a freelance writer. He is clever and aware of his social good fortune, but in dating, Nate is often infuriating, behaving selfishly and engendering a general feeling of ill will from most women he is close to, however briefly. Though Waldman’s cleverness is in having Nate emerge, at points, in appealing contrast to the guy you thought him to be.
Waldman brilliantly details the world of these bookish Brooklynites – this novel is finely specific to its time and place. She writes dinner party scenes, for one example, so acutely it is discomfiting to be in the same room as these characters. Wry and elegant, Love Affairs positions itself within a small circle, but Waldman – like Austen – offers a social commentary that occupies a space much wider.
Belle Place is the editor of Readings Monthly.