The Short Version: Aurit Arazi, a smart young writer, has struck up a friendship with another young writer named Nate Piven. They’re both seeing other people at the time and quickly become very close friends – but as New Year’s approaches and both of them are single, the question begins to float into Aurit’s mind: could they be more than friends?
The Review: Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. was a rare accomplishment in a novel – it was a woman capturing a man’s perspective on twentysomething romance so damn incisively it had be wondering if she’d talked to girls I’d dated (or, more accurately, if I’m just actually that close to the cliche sometimes). It’s a rare feat for anyone to capture the zeitgeisty lightning in a bottle, let alone doing it with such accuracy – and so when I heard that she was writing a prequel-novella (or “novelette”, as she [or was it Kathryn Schulz?] called it on Twitter), I was intrigued. And the goofy subtitle on the front cover makes it clear: let’s see what Nate actually looks like from a girl’s perspective. Not only that, let’s see what he’s like from his best female friend‘s perspective.
The timing was terribly auspicious, in fact, because I was out for drinks last night with a dear friend from college who falls into a role with me not unlike Aurit does for Nate. They challenge each other, they can annoy the hell out of one another, and they’re often better for one another’s company. But this friend and I never really had any serious romantic interest in each other – a laughable drunken kiss aside. And so it was fascinating to watch Aurit grapple with her feelings for Nate in this story, because it’s such a fine line between the sort of friends who can safely exist as just friends and those where there’s… something else.
And even if it’s a crush, it can be (even temporarily) catastrophic – because it forces you to reevaluate yourself as well as your relationship to the other party. There are, of course, an nearly infinite number of permutations of these relationships and how they play out – former romantic attachments who become friends, friends who never act on it, etc etc etc – but this one, in particular, feels like the most frequent and Waldman turns the same keen eye to it as she did to the variety of romantic conflagrations Nate ends up in during the novel. I was a little worried at first, I have to admit, that Aurit would go from being this really potent female character to yet another person bowled over by Nate… but you have to recognize that this novel takes place before the novel. The Juliet who Nate runs into in the first few pages of the novel has only just been met – and he’s only a few months out of his relationship with Elisa. So the Aurit we meet in the novel is an Aurit long since beyond the particular moment here – but you can see, now, retrospectively, just how the events of this little novella color her interactions with Nate in the future.
More than this big-picture stuff, though, Waldman has a gift for the little moments. The catch of breath as you realize that you’re probably about to kiss somebody, the flash of anger that you keep inside even as you want to flip the table over onto the person in question, the way a train of thought can get you lost even in a two-person conversation – it’s that stuff, the stuff that we (and by ‘we’, I do genuinely mean everybody but also very specifically the subset of humanity known as twentysomethings and perhaps even more specifically the twentysomethings living in New York City) go through on a daily basis and to see it plucked straight out of reality and put onto the page… it’s a strange kind of alchemy.
Rating: 4 out of 5. I had one glaring issue with the novelette and that was the last line – I won’t spoil it, but it was a little too flat of a cliche for Aurit. And, of course, this is a novella and so you can’t expect it to do what a full length piece would do. But it does, rather marvelously, slide right back into the mode of Nathaniel P. and the stark social commentary that Waldman did so well that first time around. It was fun to see a little more history between Aurit and Nate, to see a girl’s perspective on the whole thing, and to revisit old friends in general. I wish there were more little one-offs like this floating around…