Pretty much everything is good about THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P. First of all, its written in a believable male voice. Or at least I think it's believable: but then I'm not a male, so I wouldn't know. And there in lies much of the genius of the book. Wadman's story is about the love life of a Brooklyn writer, called Nate, and makes the remarkable effort to jump across the gender divide and understand what men are thinking in their relationships with women.
He meets a smart, fun woman named Hannah, and they start dating. Slowly however their relationship begins to fall apart, a collapse which is beautifully and subtly written. As in real life, it is hard to pin down what is going wrong. One view could be that Nate's a misogynist. He does certainly like to bang on about what 'women' want, and what 'women' think. Example: "He also thought that women as a general category seemed less capable of (or interested in) the disinterested aesthetic appraisal of literature or art: they were more likely to base judgments on a things message, whether or not it was one they approved of, whether it was something that 'needed saying.'"
Thus, he regards writing about relationships as not particularly worthwhile, which is ironic given the novel in which he appears. His female friend Aurit argues:
"Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. You're sizing people up to see if they're worth your time and attention, and they're doing the same to you. It's meritocracy applied to personal life, but there's no accountability. We submit ourselves to these intimate inspections and simultaneously inflict them on others and try to keep our psyches intact - to keep from becoming cold and callous - and we hope that at the end of it we wind up happier than our grandparents, who didn't spend this vast period of their lives, these prime years, so thoroughly alone, coldly and explicitly anatomized again and again. But who cares, right? It's just girl stuff."Nate responds:
"Classic Aurit. Take whatever she was personally interested in and apply all her ingenuity to turning it into Something Important."
I do tend to think that Nate is a bit of a mysoginist; but let's face it: so are most people, including most women. The book also just suggests that perhaps Nate and Hannah are just not well matched. He wants to have fun, and Hannah wants to have a relationship. As he puts it
"When he was twenty-five, everywhere he turned he saw a woman he already had, or else didn't want a boyfriend. Some were taking breaks from men to give women or celibacy a try. Others were busy applying to grad school, or planning yearlong trips to Indian ashrams, or touring the country with their all-girl rock bands. . . But in his thirties everything was different. The world seem populated to an alarming degree, by women whose careers, whether soaring or sputtering along, no longer pre-occupied them. No matter what they claimed, they seemed, in practice, to care about little except relationships."In short, he freaking loves it that the high volume ticking of the ovary clocks has put the odds very much in his favour.
And here's an interesting insight: "As they were getting into bed, she told him that he was treated like a big shot because he was a guy and had the arrogant sense of entitlement to ask for and expect to get everything he wanted, to think no honour too big for him. The funny thing was that Nate thought there was a great deal of truth in this. But he thought she could stand to ask for more. His main criticism of her, in terms of wriitng, was that too oftens he wasn't ambitious enough. She should treat each piece as it if mattered, instead of laughing off flaws proactively, defensively, citing a 'rushed job' or an 'editor who'd mess it up anyway' . . ."
So an insightful and clever little book. Well done Ms Wadman.