Last year, scholarly critic and journalist Evan Hughes wrote “Literary Brooklyn,” an excellent study of writers in Brooklyn, beginning with Walt Whitman and concluding with an account of Brooklyn today as a “literary capital.” Among those he considered are Henry Miller, Hart Crane, Marianne Moore, Thomas Wolfe, Bernard Malamud, William Styron and Norman Mailer.
Now, the contemporary Brooklyn scene is the setting for Adelle Waldman’s novel and her first book, “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.”
A Brooklyn resident, Waldman combines her first-hand knowledge of the borough with the skills she has acquired as a book reviewer and as a student at Columbia University’s School of Journalism from which she graduated.
Waldman’s protagonist is Nathaniel Piven and the book is devoted to a detailed account of his numerous sexual entanglements as seen both by him and by the women with whom he is or was involved. The author demonstrates considerable skill in portraying these problematic relationships from the perspectives of both Piven and his paramours.
They busily navigate their interactions with broken-hearted cheerlessness as they struggle to sort out their feelings for each other while focusing simultaneously on the development of their careers.
Piven brings some prestige to the relationships since he is achieving some success. After struggling for several years as a freelancer, at the age of 30, he has converted his Harvard education into a regular book reviewing assignment and a six-figure advance from a highly regarded publisher for the novel he is writing. He is less lucky in his female entanglements, moving from one to another with strain and with an inability to establish permanence. Waldman astutely explores Piven’s problems as she subtly shifts from seeming sympathy for the man’s difficulties in the battle of the sexes to identification with the women. This is particularly true of Piven’s relationship with Hannah, which is examined more thoroughly than the others.
While “Nathaniel P.” is featured in the title of the book, and his romantic entanglements are featured, ultimately, the author’s purpose becomes clear. She explores the Brooklyn literary scene and its male-female relationships in order to satirize and deplore the ultimately underdeveloped men whose lust blinds them from establishing a mature and lasting association.
This impressive first novel introduces readers to a talented and perceptive writer. We eagerly look forward to her future contributions.
“The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” by Adelle Waldman, Henry Holt & Co., 2013, 243 Pages. $25.
(Morton I. Teicher is the founding dean of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University and dean emeritus of the School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)