I belong to an amazing book group. I feel so privileged to be able to meet once a month and eat and drink and talk and laugh with this group of funny, intelligent, lively women. We began in 2006 (I think – I’ve slept since then) and have lost and added members over the years, but we’re still going strong! One person chooses three or four titles for the rest of us to vote on as next month’s read. We rotate as hostess and book presenter. If someone doesn’t read the book for that particular month, it doesn’t matter all that much. She agrees to listen politely while those of us who have read it talk about it – and we don’t hold back on spoilers. (We figure that if she’d really wanted to read it, she would have done so.)
While we always have interesting discussions, every once in a while we have a discussion that particularly blows up – in a good way. Our latest Book Group Bomb is The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. I resisted reading this book. I didn’t vote for it, and I was irritated that it got the most votes (despite the fact that a friend who I very much respect had presented it as a choice a few months earlier.) I didn’t want to read about a self-absorbed, shallow, privileged young white man and his love affairs, dammit! Why would I want to spend my valuable reading time with this loser? Don’t we read about/live with these types of guys enough?!? I dragged my heels, reading it only in the last few days before our meeting. And now I feel like a total idiot, because it’s simply a very good read.
Waldman is a master of dialogue, both inner and outer. To say that she inhabits the mind of this dude (one of my book group mates called him “bro-tastic”) is an understatement. I spent most of the book in a state of irritation and exasperation with Nate – he’s not a total monster, but he’s enough of an idiot with women to make you cringe in recognition of the losers you may have dated. Yet Waldman humanizes him enough to make him interesting. You probably don’t want to date Nate, but you still want to read about him as he and his friends navigate the sort of insular world of young writers in Brooklyn. (His best female friend is an opinionated woman named Aurit, and she gets her own story in another work by Waldman, a novella only available online.)
One of my friends called Nate “emotionally lazy.” The word “cowardly” was bandied about, as was “immature.” We also speculated about Nate’s prowess, or lack thereof, in bed, and whether or not his relationship with his mother contributed to his problems relating to women. (We don’t get a whole lot of his mother, but what we do get isn’t terribly promising.) There are many ways in which this book can relate to the lives of Gen X and younger women, so many times one can sigh in relief that one is not dating anymore. (Thank God, this married reader thinks!) Still, there’s a scene when Nate and Hannah, the woman he spends most of the novel dating, are just getting together, and he leans in to kiss her for the first time against a brick wall, and the electricity and spark in the writing might make one nostalgic for the fraught excitement of being single and finding someone who’s “into” you.
Such a punch for such a slim novel! It’s a Jane Austen novel with a jerk at its center, set in modern-day Brooklyn instead of eighteenth century Bath. It’s an examination of modern-day relationships among a certain privileged set of young people. It’s one of those “nothing happens but everything happens” kind of books. I have a weakness for those. If you don’t have to love your characters to be entertained by them, and you like novels where people talk (and think) a lot, you should pick this one up.