The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
I really had mixed feelings about this book. I’m convinced that Nate, the protagonist, is meant to be an anti-hero. The reader is meant to empathize with him while also thinking he’s a complete jerk. His actions are not supposed to be admirable, and they rarely are. I didn’t like the rare moments when I did empathize with him because I found his actions and attitudes so objectionable. He basically admits to misogynist tendencies, and spends much of the book making insulting generalizations about women, and yet at the same time he knows these ideas are bad and wrong and would never say them out loud. If I thought readers were meant to like Nate wholeheartedly and commend his every decision and idea as correct, I would be calling the book utterly offensive.
The story is about his complicated live life. I count five relationships of various levels of seriousness that are described in detail. I thought it was telling that in all the book’s sex scenes, there is no mention of Nate performing oral sex, only receiving, and occasionally being unsatisfied.
Nate has the incredible luck to meet and attract Hannah, a woman who honestly and sincerely embodies the “cool girl” described in Gone Girl. The requests she makes of him are basically the bare minimum it takes to maintain a relationship, and he feels like she’s unreasonable. She’s as chill and non-clingy as it is possible for a woman to be, but Nate constantly projects his own guilt onto her, or treats her as if she were his crazy ex. Though he has a strong emotional and intellectual connection with Hannah, his refusal to be sincere with her and honest with himself costs him the relationship in the end. His choice is really very cowardly, and the whole book could be seen as a criticism of anyone who chooses self-image over truth and vulnerability. He ends up in a serious relationship that is very shallow and full of conflict, with a woman who will never understand him the way Hannah did. I wanted him to be punished much, much more severely.
I guess I was fairly impressed that Waldman could get me to react so strongly to this character and straddle that fine line between sympathy and antipathy. It’s good to feel strongly about a book, and if those feelings are a bit confused, that’s usually a sign the book was decently complex.