Friday, January 24, 2014

Brooklyn Affairs

The Love Affiars of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman is a book about Nate, a youngish writer who has paid his dues with book reviews and freelance work, and has a new novel about to hit the stands.  He is a bit of a playa in his set of over educated navel gazers, and when we meet him he is single.  This quickly changes when he meets Hannah at an ex-girlfriend's dinner party.  Hannah is everything that Nate typically doesn't date.  She is low key, smart, interesting and straight forward. 

At first Nate is really excited about the relationship, but as time goes on, he keeps trying to find things that are wrong.  He thinks about what he hasn't liked about other girlfriends, like that they nagged him.  Then he tests Hannah to see if he can make her nag him. Hannah is in a no win situation, where if she doesn't nag him, Nate will keep behaving badly until she finally does, at which point he can pounce on her for being a nag, just like all the rest.

As the title suggests (blatantly) the book is all about Nate's relationship drama.  When I read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, I just didn't get it.  I know that it is supposed to be a comedy of manners, but I didn't find it funny.  Around that time, the New York Times reviewed Nathaniel P., and said that it was a modern day comedy of manners, set in the Brooklyn literary scene.  I would think that people who like Jane Austen's stories, but are looking for something a little more modern would like Nathaniel P.  It is interesting that Nathaniel P. is written in a Jane Austen style, but from the man's perspective, and that it is written by a woman.  I found myself wondering if men (or some men anyway) actually do think like Nate, or if the story is really telling how women believe men like Nate think.  Whichever it is, I frequently thought about a certain person who I dated in college while reading about Nate's manipulations.  Waldman's telling sounded about right to me.

Although it is said to be a comedy of manners, there wasn't that much that I found all that funny.  There were just a couple of pages that I turned down with sort of funny quotes.  The first is Nate complaining about Hannah, and saying "Apparently, no woman in the early twenty-first century is the kind of woman who (a) wants a boyfriend or (b) wants to talk about her relationship, no matter how much she (a) wants a boyfriend and (b) wants to talk about her relationship." 

The second quote is just two pages later where Nate is being deliberately rude to Hannah.  "'It's fine,' he said in the kind of cold, flat voice that only someone with serious Asperger's would take at face value.  Hannah's expression indicated to Nate that she did not suffer from Asperger's syndrome."  I think that one was funnier in context.

I was really looking forward to Nathaniel P., because it seems like all of my favorite authors (except Jess Walter) are living in Brooklyn, and reading a book set among them would be fun.  But what was I thinking?  That the characters would go on a double date with JSF and Nicole Krauss?  Yes, most of Nate's friends are authors or in the publishing industry, but somehow the story was lacking an element of excitement or activity that in my mind at least should have been there.  Waldman is the expert - she is part of that Brooklyn literary society, and should certainly know its pulse.  Maybe there's really not much action, with all of the authors feeling a certain resentment toward each other, and writing on different schedules and at different places.

Nathaniel P. is the second book that I have finished for the I Love Library Books Challenge.  28 more to go!

Next Up:  The Vanishing by Wendy Webb

Still Listening to:  City of Thieves by David Benioff

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