What I’m Reading: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

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Two years and forever ago, I took a “master class” with Zoe Heller, who wrote What Was She Thinking: Notes On a Scandal which was then adapted into a movie I loved called Notes on a Scandal, starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. 

In case you don’t know, it’s about a high school teacher who has an affair with one of her students and yeah, what was she thinking? Anyway, the movie was excellent. I didn’t read the book and probably should, but the story itself was enough for me to say, “Sign me up for that master class.”

It was called “Men Writing Women, Women Writing Men,” and on the too-short list of recommended reading was The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. Heller brought in xeroxed excerpts which I devoured and underlined left and right. I vowed to read the entire book as soon as I got a minute, but a minute became two years and a few months until two weeks ago, I wandered into The Strand bookstore with Tom.

I saw the book – in paperback – on one of those curated “Recommended Fiction” tables that bookstores have to prevent less well-read patrons from getting lost in the stacks. I grabbed it.

Finally! I thought, We’ve been meaning to catch up!

My dear reader: It’s only March, but it’s unlikely that this year I’ll recommend a book as fervently as I do this one. I loved Americanah, I loved We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, but I loved The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. because it was timely, relevant and one hundred percent true. Of my dating experiences and of countless other women. I read it around the same time as when a handful of friends – both men and women, but mostly women –  ended or become embroiled in dead-end, ill-defined relationships that, at least in the beginning, had seemed promising.

I also read it while Tom was away on a business trip, which meant I could finish it in one night reading until 3AM because no one was telling me to turn the light off – something I haven’t done since the seventh Harry Potter.

It reminded me that my undying fascination with and desire to write about love and relationships – however vague it sounds (at least to Tom) – was not only a worthy pursuit, but also incredibly useful. As in, it applies to you, me and everyone we know. But I’ll return to this later.

For now let me say: whether you’re single or attached, a hopeless romantic or a calculating cynic looking for romantic partnership (love comes later if at all), you have to read this book. Especially if you live in New York.

I’m terrible at book reviews (I’m pretty sure I say this in every single “review” type thing I write), so I’ll reluctantly quote Lena Dunham, whose work I’ve yet to read but judging by her ubiquity and popularity, does seem to be “a voice of a generation”:

Waldman has done the heretofore impossible: get at the core of the modern female state through the roiling inner monologue of a man….her protagonist is well-meaning, and that may be the most sobering part. Nate is almost too real. Mark my words: this book will inspire laughter, chills of recognition, and desperate flights into lesbianism.

And to quote my friend Jane, who is currently navigating her own relationship (though who in a relationship is ever not navigating) and to whom I recommended the book with the caveat: read at your own risk:

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And lastly, because this is how I decide to start reading any book, to let the writing speak for itself.

First some plot summary: Nate meets Hannah at a party. Hannah emails Nate after the party regarding a conversation they had. Liking the intellectual back and forth (it was a Brooklyn party filled with writers), Nate finds it refreshing and asks her out. On the second date, he tries to sleep with Hannah but she says no, He asks to sleep over at her apartment, she says yes. Then he waits a week before calling her again.

But he and Hannah were soon going to move past new-person territory. That whole bit about not wanting to sleep with him, about not knowing him well enough, made clear that she wasn’t looking for something casual. He had tacitly agreed to her terms when he asked her out again. (This was the real reason he’d hesitated about calling her). After the other night, it would be harder, more awkward for him to tell Hannah he wasn’t looking for anything serious. Also something had stopped him from delivering such a line either time they’d gone out. he had sensed it would be, for Hannah, a deal breaker. – that she wouldn’t bat her eyelashes and say, “I’m not looking for anything serious either” the way a lot of girls did, as if this were part of the challenge of dating. Each time he’d been out with Hannah, he had found himself reluctant to say anything that would throw water on their fun, flirty, dynamic. No doubt he’d feel the same hesitation tonight. 

Don’t wait. It’s very very good. While you may not like what you read, you won’t regret reading it.

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