Friday, May 31, 2013

Gender (Ab)Norms

I've been super busy (yeah, what's new with you?), but taking time to read is all I've got left for preserving my sanity as we grow nearer and nearer to Finals Week! Well, that and the Sorority Challenge at Yogurtland on the Ave. But that's different.

Therefore, instead of partaking in such normal college student behavior like social interaction, I can hide in my little closet space where my desk looms, large and imposing and covered in books waiting to be read.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., by Adelle Waldman, is yet another ARC, one that I got from Goodreads a couple of weeks ago. (Publishing: Henry Holt and Co. [Division of Macmillan]/ Expected Date of Publication: July 16th.)

Nathaniel Piven is not your average 30-something Brooklynite literary nerd, nor your dime-a-dozen shallow, pretentious, competitive, and flaky ex-boyfriend-material business boy living in New York. Or at least that's what he thinks. This funny and involving novel, about Nate's romantic entanglements and their repercussions for his self-opinion and life, offers a poignant glimpse at the way the modern metro man thinks, lives, and loves, as well as explores contemporary gender dynamics in a way that is refreshing, unabashed, and spoken with both conviction and honesty.

The authorial voice proved to be my favorite element of this book. Nathaniel - though a bit of a douche, as a great number of Goodreads reviewers have found to be an issue - is a well-formed and richly developed douche, displaying the full spectrum of emotion and range of thought in an unfamiliar way, making reading his thoughts similar to taking a field trip into the inner workings of a mind I've never encountered. This may sound odd, but the story read as distinctly masculine! Yes, I realize that it's the result of our lead character -duh. - but about a third of the way into the story, when I took a glance at the bio, I was shocked to be reminded that the author was a woman. Most interestingly, the strength of voice drudged up the very pertinent question, For a novel that especially delineates and is forced to contend with the messy tangles of men and women mentality and status in interpersonal relationships, how much of this is playing into previously crafted tropes, of what is distinctly masculine and feminine? This superb quality of the style of writing really forced a weighing of archetypes, and I really appreciated that added undercurrent of questionability and mental effort to hold the author accountable to her characters.

The characters themselves, both men and women, were similarly complex and developed. They all served distinct purposes, of course, but couldn't be argued into stock character corners. They furnished the story line without becoming mere furniture themselves; I can only guess that they were probably at least partially constructed from the bones of real people. They constantly challenged existing preconceptions about how these city-dwelling 30-somethings would act or behave, in both truth, and through satire.

It was, at least partially, an almost dry-and-wry satire, of those classically imagined lives of the young and brilliant in New York City, but leaned more towards the sympathetic than the obvious. It was more intuitive and self aware than over-blown or desperately self-acknowledging, and what I've said previously about the characters directly contrasts what you'd expect in a typical satire. It's just that while the novel itself lent directly to challenge the contemporary grand narrative, there will still areas where the story fit puzzle-piece-like directly into the predicted pattern of such things, but did so with a wink and a smile.

It all drew out a little towards the end, getting repetitive and stilted, but so, too, were most of Nate's romances. Still, there's a happy ending. The novel as a whole serves up a brief excerpt from Nate's life and a glimpse into a coming-of-age love story, a sampling of a changing psyche, filed under the classic romantic moralizing that "Everyone meets someone who changes them forever." Instead of true love, however, our lead character finds knowledge, growth, and discovery, without deviating from his own sense of conscious and candor, "true" thinking and refreshingly honest mind.

Adelle Waldman has written a deep, and yet, humorous and spectacularly crafted and intuitive account of the effect of one brief romance in the string of many Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., offering an intriguing study of what is man and what is woman, and more interestingly, what electric friction happens between the two in the lively literary sets of Brooklyn upstarts. The novel is clear and quick in pace, which, when combined with the debut author's frank and unapologetic writing style, results in a simultaneous humor and elegance that you don't necessarily find in many contemporary novels.

And it almost made me feel like I had real friends. (JUST KIDDING. I have friends). Maybe I should go down to the kitchen and seek out some social interaction now, and get away from all this work, to seek out some friendship of my own. :)

{Warning: Novel contains sex scenes, though not gratuitously graphic.}


  1. Quick question. Do you notify the company sending you an advance copy as to when a review is published?

  2. Most of the books I get as ARCs, I review via Goodreads! It's a great social networking site for those who love books, and allows for a closer connection between publishers and authors, and their fans. :)