It was my turn to pick the next selection for my Mommy & Me Book Club and I was having difficulty choosing. I thought some element of randomness might be fun so I asked my mom to choose two letters of the alphabet. I received “W” and “L” in response so I drove to my local Barnes & Noble and with the excitement of a kid hunting for Easter eggs, I dashed to the fiction section and found authors whose last names start with “W”. Running my index finger along the lip of the shelves, I scanned the book titles and stopped on the first one that started with “L”: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. I believe I uttered an audible “ugh”. The marketing blurb on the back of the book would have inspired me to put the book back on the shelf:
“For every woman who’s ever wondered by he didn’t call and every man who has felt guilty – but not guilty enough – about not calling”
Good grief. No, thank you. I nearly put it back on the shelf and went for the next title. Mom would never know, right? But no, I had decided to try a somewhat random title and so it would have not have been right to reject this book. When I returned home, I started reading immediately. I knew if I didn’t, my initial reticence would result in me putting off reading for days or weeks.
I found the story of Nate Piven’s dating life not quite to my taste, but I loved Adelle Waldman’s prose. She is insightful with an erudite vocabulary and though I found the titular character unpleasant and often offensive, I found myself grudgingly agreeing that Waldman accurately wrote Nate to behave and think the way many, not all, men do. I would like to believe I am a better man than Nate, but as I reached the halfway point of the story, a long look in the mirror forced me to admit to myself that I have committed some of the same relationship crimes that Nate does. While this made for an unpleasant moment, I found it cathartic. We never like to admit when we are wrong but as long as we learn from the experience, even the bad can be put to good use.
A cause of much eye-rolling on my part is that it seems Nate lives in a world populated exclusively by attractive women. I suppose this can be explained away by saying Nate only remarks upon the ladies he finds “doable”, but I grew tired of every female character in the novel being considered a sex object of some kind. This is likely Ms. Waldman’s point, isn’t it? There is good reason #YesAllWomen exploded on Twitter in the summer of 2014. In fact, this novel appears to be a vessel for modern social commentary and that is what interested me most. While I was irritated (envious?) that Nate was constantly surrounded by beautiful and sophisticated people, their conversations were my favorite parts of the book. Waldman’s characters felt real and their discussions sounded similar to the ones my friends and I occasionally have. I wanted to dive into the page and join in the chatter.
So story not so much, but a huge yes for Waldman’s style and characters such that I am going to keep an eye out for her work in the future. This is her debut novel with no word yet about her second, but she has penned articles for several publications so I am going to hunt those down until her next book is published. Mom felt much the same way about the book as I do, even as far as having an uncomfortable moment when she realized that she identified with one of the characters. I’m pleased that our experiment of selection worked out this time.