NATE PIVEN is a third-person narrator who thinks he's omniscient. A "young, up-and-coming literary intellectual," he moves through his bookish Brooklyn circles passing implacable judgment on every woman he meets: Juliet is irrational, Elisa is needy, Cara is provincial, Kristen isn't literary. It's only gradually, as Adelle Waldman's debut novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. unfolds, that it dawns on the reader that maybe the problem doesn't lie with all of these women after all.
Maybe it lies with Nate.
Maybe Nate is kind of an asshole.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., just out in paperback, is both a brutally funny comedy of manners and a scathing character study. Nate is a talented writer, arrogant yet intermittently decent, careless with women because he can be. Though hypercritical of those around him, he's oblivious to his own flaws—and incapable of fathoming what he really wants or needs from a partner. When he meets a woman, Hannah, who actually seems like a pretty good match, he subjects her to some Jedi-level mind trickery rather than simply owning up to his own reservations about the relationship.
Nate's intellectual arrogance is so aggravating, down to his secret suspicion that women "were either deep or reasonable, but rarely both"—that it actually feels vindicating that there's a female author up there pulling his strings.
"I hear a lot from men—who range in age from college age or so, to much older—who write to me to say that they related to Nate, or they related to Nate in their younger days," Waldman explains over the phone from Brooklyn. "And they say this with a sheepishness; they're not super proud.
"Men tend to be slightly freaked out about relating to Nate, and women get slightly freaked out about dating Nate."
Nathaniel P. captures a gender and power dynamic that plenty of women will recognize—and men, too, whether they admit it or not. "In his early 20s, [Nate] was eager to date, but he was the one more likely to be rejected," Waldman says. "When the book takes place, he's got more going on status wise, and there's something changing in gender dynamics where more power seems to be on the side of the heterosexual man... He kind of always knows that if it doesn't work out with one woman, there's another one waiting for him."
In describing these gender and power dynamics from a man's point of view, and in making it really goddamn funny, Waldman has created an extraordinary piece of fiction—thought provoking, insightful, and uncomfortably relatable.