First, a disclaimer: There is about an 88% chance that at some point in this post, I will in one way or another end up transposing all or part of the title of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” into the title of this book. I don’t know whether the similarity in the title was intentional or not, but my poor Prufrock infused brain really can’t resist. Anyway…
Hello, internet people! It seems that my habit of reading several books at once results in long lulls and then a storm of bookish posts all at once. I’m going to have to start backlogging my posts so that they don’t all come up in one week. That aside, I’m here today to bring you my thoughts on a book that I’d been reading for quite a stretch of time: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
I read this book as part of a lovely Facebook book club group that my college roommate, Gina, and I have so that we can keep talking about books together (because we were essentially perfect roommates like that). Because of that, I read this book over a longer period than most of my reading tends to take place. That being said, my thoughts may be a bit scattered. You’ve been warned with all of the warnings. Let us proceed.
I was a bit nervous to read this book after taking a look at the Goodreads reviews when I scanned it to my “to be read” shelf. Most of the top reviews said things like “So basically Nathaniel P. is a giant pr*@k.” Historically, I’m not so good with unlikable main characters. Wuthering Heights? Forget about it. Adelle Waldman, however, presents the title character so sympathetically and paints him so vividly that I have to respectfully disagree with the disparagers.
At the risk of sounding, well, a bit rude, I can’t help but wonder how honest people were being about their own dating experiences while reading this book and roundly condemning Nathaniel P. That, or I’m about to out myself as some sort of quasi sociopath because, quite honestly… I saw myself in Nate much more than I ever would have hoped to. As I read, there were certainly moments where I thought “My God, is that how men think?” and “Oh, I hope no one has ever thought that about me.” But so much more often than I really want to admit, I felt myself nodding along. Suddenly and inexplicably realizing that your feelings for someone have shifted and you can’t go back? Check. Trying to avoid that reality while accidentally causing that person more pain? Check. Angry boners? Not so much–anatomically impossible. Still, I couldn’t help but start to take the condemnation of Nate a little personally–here was a person in whom I could see myself, and people thought he was a complete and total a@*hole.
Hopefully it’s just a credit to Waldman’s beautiful character building and not a testament to my own personality that I felt I could understand and connect with a character who makes the wrong choices a lot of the time. I really enjoyed the book, even if it was in a sort of cringing away from the inevitable awfulness that is the slow decay of what starts out as a fairly promising romantic relationship. That being said, I personally didn’t really enjoy how the book ended. While of course it resonates with real life in that there isn’t much a sense of closure, there was a certain sense of… giving up at the end that left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. I don’t mean that I feel the author gave up, but rather the character. At the end, I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to make of present-day Nate versus past Nate.
In summary, my experience with this book was pretty much a split between horror/disgust, grudging recognition of self, and occasional “ugh”ing at the sad inevitability of where some of Nate’s choices were going to lead. I wholeheartedly recommend this book even to those who are a little on the fence about potentially unlikable narrators. I think the prose is worth it, personally.