It’s not rare for me to have a strong emotional reaction to a book. Based on the type of books I usually read, that strong reaction is usually happy-go-lucky, the world is so great, love is real, etc. etc. Occasionally, such as with The Lovely Bones, The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Fault In Our Stars, the strong reaction is deeply and tortuously sad about how unfair the world actually is. Rarely is the strong reaction a deep, substantial rage at the narrator, but such is the case with The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. I HATE Nathaniel P.
This anger-causing novel is told from the perspective of Nate, an up-and-coming Brooklyn writer. The first thing that happens in the book is Nate runs into an ex-fling whom he got pregnant — and for whom he paid for an abortion before promptly dropping her like a hot potato — and this run-in occurs on his way to a dinner party hosted by his neurotic ex-girlfriend. At this party, while contemplating hooking up with said ex once again, he meets his future girlfriend, Hannah. The relationship between Nate and Hannah — the exciting, tantalizing build-up and the inevitable, frustrating downfall — is the focus of the rest of the story. Being inside the mind of Nate during this relationship is, I think, supposed to be enlightening for women, for us to know how men really think. Nate makes horrendous criticisms of the most minute details of Hannah’s physical appearance and personality, the very criticisms women like me hope the objects of their affection never make. (I hope with every fiber of my being that my boyfriend never thought such horrible, awful thoughts about me when we started dating. Or, you know, ever since.) Nate says downright mean things to Hannah for absolutely no reason at all, gets angry at her for reacting to his snappiness and then reprimands himself for doing it in the first place. He single-handedly destroys a truly decent relationship, and is fully aware of the destruction for months before actually letting the poor girl go. After each chapter I wanted to scream a every male in my vicinity: “IS THIS REALLY HOW YOU THINK? THIS IS WORSE THAN WE THOUGHT!”
I did, however, like the book. It doesn’t sound like it because the narrator/main character is so horrific, but the actual writing by Ms. Waldman is very, very good. (Reminded me a bit of Curtis Sittenfeld, actually.) And, you know, it’s an actual grownup book. It has long, complex sentences and long, complex words, pretty much the complete opposite of other books I’ve read lately (no offense, Rick Riordan). I am by no means ashamed of the teen series and chick lit I usually read, but it was nice to read a book of this caliber and think, “Oh, I know what those words mean. I am still kind-of smart”. I would definitely read something else by Waldman, I just really, really, REALLY hate Nathaniel P.