I wanted to create a complete world that readers could become absorbed in

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

Adelle Waldman has notably written for The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, Slate and The Village Voice. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is her first novel.

Nate’s female acquaintances are an important part of his life but they are also, in part, what makes him interesting.  During the writing process, did you focus on these characters before deciding to have the novel revolve around Nate?

I conceived the book around Nate. I felt I’d read many books written by male authors about bright, ambitious young men from the provinces who move the big city to pursue their intellectual ambitions. Balzac’s “Lost Illusions” was one of the first, but I was also thinking of more modern books. I wanted to write a version of this story, but with a twist. I wanted to focus on the way my male protagonist treats women.

That said, the female characters in the book are very important to me. I relate to all of them. And in writing the book there were moments where I was frustrated that I could only show them through Nate’s eyes. His perceptions of them are not always fair.

What kind of feedback did you get from your readers about Nate, the protagonist? 

I’ve heard from many, many men who say they relate to Nate. They aren’t proud of this—they tell me sheepishly that they see aspects of themselves in his thoughts. (And the fact that they feel sheepish suggests they are more self-aware and sensitive than Nate is!) Some of the men who write to me are Nate’s age and younger; often, they want advice. Others are from much older men who say Nate reminds them of a younger version of themselves.

Meanwhile, many women strongly dislike Nate—to the point of wishing he were real so they could punch him. I relate to this somewhat. After all, I wrote the book in part to critique Nate’s treatment of women. But I also feel more affection for him than some readers do, in spite of his flaws. For me, he’s like a brother.

Quite a few reviewers compared The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. to a comedy of manners. How meaningful was it for you to work with satire?

I don’t see the book as a satire. I see the book as a realistic character study. I really wanted to resist the temptation to satirize or create caricature. I think each of the book’s characters is flawed and complicated the way that real people are. To me, comedy of manners sounds closer to what I had in mind. On the other hand, many readers and critics have read it as satire, so there is, I suppose, some ambiguity. Perhaps I am cynical for thinking that the characters in the book are realistic, but take Nate. He doesn’t mean to be hurtful, but he causes harm—I think that’s true for many of us. He is also defensive and self-justifying. That said, I certainly don’t think all men are like Nate.

The novel is set in Brooklyn and almost every one of the characters is a writer. Would you call it a microcosm? 

The world of the book is very similar in many ways to the world I live in, in Brooklyn, a community full of writers. Microcosm sounds right. I wanted to create a complete world that readers could become absorbed in, which is something I love about many 19th century novels.

Editorial reviews (4 reviews)

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P is a look at gender relations as much as it is romantic relationships, and for a woman writer to do so by ventriloquising a male character feels like a bold and refreshing contribution to both debates.

It’s small and specific, drained of history and ethnicity, attendant to the pangs of its social conscience but committed, still, to its fascination with the well-being of those who have already won.

The pleasures of this novel—its lucidity and wry humor—are mixed with the sting of recognizing the essential unfairness of the sexual mores of our moment: