The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.: The “Girls” of the Literary World

There’s something about describing Brooklyn in any way–it doesn’t seem to matter how generic or thoughtless–that gets people, to quote Shane Black, “wetter than Drew Barrymore at a grunge club.” No matter how superficial, artificial or parodying the portrayal of this particular borough is, people are all over whatever piece of pop culture seems to have its “finger on the pulse” of BK at the moment. This isn’t to say that Adelle Waldman’s much lauded debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, isn’t extremely accurate and well-written. It is. But it’s also a story that doesn’t even seem to warrant telling in the first place.

The cover of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P
The cover of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P
Waldman’s insight into the male psyche takes shape in the form of Nate Piven a.k.a. Nathaniel P (which would be the worst white rapper name ever). His self-involved, self-critical nature is par for the course of any Brooklyn writer. In other words, he’s completely and utterly boring, and very few people outside of the New York City area would find his woes half as interesting or relatable. Does anyone give a shit about the cutthroat nature of book reviewing in say, Kansas City? Probably not. And yet, this is one of Nate’s chief plights: getting ousted by Eugene Wu over a review he thought he had in the bag.
Waldman reads from her debut
Waldman reads from her debut
But it isn’t just attaining freelance work that plagues Nate. It’s also his inability to sustain a relationship. His latest one, after Kristen and Juliet and Elise, is Hannah Leary, a fellow writer who everyone views as “smart and nice.” She would be what Carrie Bradshaw (come on, you know I had to mention her at least once when talking about NYC dating) would refer to as “good on paper” (see: Sex and the City, “Twenty-Something Girls Vs. Thirty Something-Women”). Even though everything about Hannah should feel right, should be enough, it doesn’t translate somehow in an actual relationship with her. But instead of presenting it this way, Waldman uses Nate’s misogyny and indecision as a way to explain away his innate lack of chemistry with Hannah. And this, we’re supposed to marvel at in terms of her adeptness at character development.
Author photo-to
Author photo-to
Where the Girls comparison comes in, of course, is that The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P serves as fast food, of sorts, to the Brooklyn outsider. It’s a crash course in how you should perceive not just this borough and its associated struggles, but what it’s like to attempt at intimacy here. It would be different if Nate ends up alone at the end of the book, that would be the ultimate testament to his chauvinism and general assholery. But no, he does end up with someone. And that alone negates all the integrity of the book. So if you’re not much of a reader, you might as well stick to watching Girls for the knowledge you get about how terrible it is to be an average, not overly attractive woman in Brooklyn.