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Book review: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman

A cocky, neurotic and intellectually precious young Brooklyn writer, his friends and lovers help make Waldman's debut an impressive one.

Photograph: Jessica Lin

By Josh Davis. Henry Holt, $25.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. catalogs, fittingly, the romantic entanglements of Nate Piven, a young Brooklyn writer who has just sold his first novel. Nate is somewhat typical of cocky first-time authors: He’s neurotic and intellectually precious, and he often holds his status as a burgeoning literary force above many of the living, breathing people around him. In this debut, journalist Adelle Waldman sounds like an anthropologist familiar enough with her subject (in this case, the self-serious male writer) to speak his language: The dialogue is pitch-perfect, so much so that the exposition occasionally becomes tiresome by comparison.

Nate is constantly considering his past relationships with women, even when he meets what should be his match in Hannah, a bright, pretty and extraordinarily patient young woman who is also pursuing a writing career. After the initial spark, the dreaminess of their courtship fades, and Nate immerses himself in work, chores and obscure friendships. As his interior monologue switches from adoration to irritation, often at the drop of a pin, the relationship fizzles with a painful realism. Brooklyn, meanwhile, is the perfect costar, and Waldman romanticizes it in a way that feels fresh. Despite occasional flashes of snobbery, Nate revels in borough life, finding beauty in environments sqalid, artful and gentrified.

Waldman’s characters are distinctive and impressively rendered, so it’s sometimes a shame to be centrally located in Nate’s head at the expense of the supporting characters. As a protagonist, he can be exhausting, while others, such as Hannah, as well as Jason and Aurit—Nate’s oldest friends—offer welcome alternatives. There aren’t any big lessons learned by the book’s end, and some of the action begins to feel a little arbitrary. But all in all, Nathaniel P. is an impressive entrance, sharply written and infused with plenty of authenticity.

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