My mother used to chide my father by saying that the small continuation of the line off the ‘X’ in the XX chromosome for women (verse the ‘XY’ for men) was ‘common sense’. I’ve taken this to heart over the years and now I feel I have a good understanding as to why men pretty much suck. I get it. We’re self-centered, sex craving, petty and mean.
The fact that Men suck is exactly the point Adelle Waldman makes in her debut novel Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. And she makes that point very clear, in this intelligent, well-written, modern day courtship story. She moves around Nathaniel Piven’s mind or Nate’s (as he is called) life in tangential but fluid prose.
Nate is a literary man floating about in the Brooklyn lit scene, anticipating the publication of his new book. He is intelligent, self-aware and neurotic, and very self-centered. All of the pieces are there to construct an interesting and engaging character, but something doesn’t fit. I felt like I got to know him, but I didn’t really understand him. Does that make any sense? Perhaps because he didn’t generate any feelings of empathy from me, important for a character that so much of the book is based around.
Her dialogue can also be trying. All of the long-winded, pseudo -intellectual conversations the reader is forced to endure makes it seem like they’re all caricatures of people we know. The subject matter of their conversation ranges from “commodification of conscience” and using a discussion about Dickens to flirt, “Well, we aren’t so different. We’ve just gotten better at hiding it—from ourselves most of all. People back then at least justified their behavior by admitting to their contempt for the poor.” Juxtaposing the latter two extremes with juvenile chauvinistic declaratives and bro frat-platitudes like, “I’d do her” and “Go for it” reduces the complications of male-female relationships.? Personally, I don’t think it’s executed well, as it’s such a stark contrast.
After meeting Hannah, “a thin, pert-breasted writer” at a party, the two begin dating. Waldman makes excellent use of describing the communication breakdowns that fracture their relationship over time. The self-aggrandizing justifications like, “He didn’t have the energy right then to deal with this unbearable, this boring tension between the two of them” are fun.
Through it all, Hannah’s clarity is never brought into question. She is the absolution of Nate’s “product of a postfeminist” desire. But for as long as Hannah maintains her level headedness—and doesn’t veer too far on the crazy side—Nate always looks bad. I think that contributed to the lack of empathy I feel for him. Between that and the vanilla undifferentiated descriptions, I didn’t care enough about him by the end.
I enjoyed the book overall, don’t get me wrong. I really did. Hell, the romantic entanglements of the Brooklyn-lit scene were fun to watch. The prose was excellent and I look forward to reading Waldman’s next work. I just hope the men suck a little less.