Jonathan Franzen has called her ‘a writer to watch’ and Lena Dunham says of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.: ‘Mark my words: this book will inspire laughter, chills of recognition and flights into lesbianism’. These two aren’t alone in their praise for Adelle Waldman and her first novel. The team here at Windmill have been overjoyed and inundated by reviews from press and readers alike about her witty, profound and utterly modern look at the male psyche. We caught up with Adelle to find out more about where exactly the eponymous Mr. P. came from…
Where did you get the idea for The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.?
I got the idea when I was reading a book by a male author, who I thought let his protagonist off the hook for how he treated women. It seemed to me that this could be said of many books by male authors, some of which are books that I love—novels by authors I admire tremendously, such as Roth and Bellow. Still, it seemed to me that it might be worth exploring a smart, ambitious and romantically adventurous male protagonist from a different angle; my idea was to scrutinize his treatment of women, to be fair but unsparing and reveal his thoughts, for better or worse.
Tell us about where the characters came from?
Honestly, there is some of me in Nate. I borrowed from my own upbringing in the suburbs and gave him some of my interests, particularly his interest in literature. The world in which Nate and his friends live is also based on the world in which I live, in Brooklyn. That said, the individual characters are made up, not based on real people. That was something that was important to me. I wanted to get the world right—for the book to feel “real”—but I didn’t want any of my friends to feel exposed.
Do you identify with any of the characters in the novel?
I identify with all of them. I am very critical of Nate in many ways—see above, re his treatment of women!—but I also relate to him, to his sense of liberal guilt, for example, to his ambition. At the same time, I empathize with and relate to just about every woman in the book as well. There is nothing any of them say or do that I might not have said or done myself.
How much is this book an accurate representation of dating in New York?
Hmm… I tried to write the book to be as accurate a representation of dating as possible, so I’d like to say “very,” but maybe I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m a little biased! My goal was to be realistic—to be very clear-eyed and not to sugarcoat the dating world. Of course, it should also be said that Nate is one guy—and is not representative of all or most guys. He’s, I think, colder than the “average” guy, more cerebral and less feeling. He also doesn’t really value relationships very much, which is part of why he behaves the way he does. Not all guys are like that, of course! But I think women should watch out for the ones who are.
Has anyone ever asked you if they are Nate?
Yes. I’ve been—jokingly—accused of stealing men’s journals or listening in on their conversations with their therapists to create the character of Nate. I’m not sure whether to be gratified as an author—or sad as a woman, since there is a lot about Nate that I wish were atypical. Sadly, I think that, although Nate is more extreme, he shares many traits in common with men generally.
Does the book fit into a wider cultural movement looking at the lives of young urban people, along with things like Frances Ha and Girls?
Maybe so! When I started writing the book, neither of those things existed, but I love both Girls and Frances Ha. I don’t think that writing about the lives of young people is anything new, but Girls and Frances Ha and my book share not only a Brooklyn setting but a focus on a certain type of young person: college-educated, but financially strapped, creatively ambitious but often professionally stymied. This is a type I relate to.
What’s next for you?
Probably another novel, but I also enjoy writing criticism, particularly about 19th century novels, which are my first and strongest literary love.