BOOK: "Women crave relationships the way men crave orgasm," a good friend explains to Nate, who is brooding about the failure of his most recent affair. "Their whole being bends to its imperative. Men, in contrast, want relationships the way women want orgasm: sometimes, under the right circumstances." This wry observation puts Nate in a better mood, since it shifts responsibility from his own actions and places it on the nature of men and women. He returns to his disorderly apartment in Brooklyn rejuvenated, and glad to be alone in it again. He did not need to be in a relationship at the moment, he decides, although he soon finds himself in another.
Nate Piven, the title character of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., is a 30-something graduate of Harvard trying to establish himself as a writer. He has a respectable gig writing freelance book reviews for a website, and has finished a novel about a young man, much like himself, growing up with Romanian immigrant parents, much like his own. He has discovered that his stock on the sexual marketplace has increased handsomely in recent years, enabling him to flit from one beautiful young woman to another. The routine is always the same: infatuation followed by dissatisfaction, which may involve noticing the loose flesh on his beloved's upper arm, or fielding her frequent question, "What's wrong?" When he falls for Hannah, a bright, ambitious writer much like himself, Nate thinks he has found a soul mate, but the reader easily recognizes what's happening, even if Nate does not.
WHY READ? The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. offers what Sasha Weiss, literary editor for the New Yorker, succinctly describes as "a mercilessly clear view into a man's mind as he grows tired of a worthy woman." The author, a young woman named Adelle Waldman, proves to be a perceptive guide to Nate's mind. She puts his "clamorous conscience" on full display, allowing his desire for fairness and gallantry to deflect easy criticism of his behavior. For example, when Nate encounters an ex who is still fuming over the way he treated her after she had an abortion, he dismisses her with a breezy, "Look, Juliet, it was great to see you. And you do look great. But I've really got to go." Sounds bad, but Waldman eventually provides the backstory, in which the unwanted pregnancy resulted from a broken condom, and Nate sincerely tried to support Juliet through the ordeal, before disappearing from her life and moving on. After all, they just weren't right for each other, Nate tells himself, reasonably. Perhaps he was a jerk for appearing more enthusiastic about her at first than he eventually felt, but women should listen when he tells them he isn't looking for anything serious. As Chris Rock famously put it, "A man is basically as faithful as his options," and Nate has options, lots of them, and he's eager to exercise them.
MAKE IT: As Brooklyn solidifies its reputation as hipster heaven, good restaurants keep appearing, offering sumptuous delights that frequently find their way into cookbooks illustrated with provocative photos. One of those cookbooks, This Is a Cookbook, features recipes by young brothers Max Sussman (chef de cuisine at Roberta's in Brooklyn) and Eli Sussman (a line cook at Miles End Delicatessen a few miles away). They offer a recipe for flourless chocolate espresso tart that is easy, and accompanied by a photo that appropriately shows the dessert already mostly devoured.
Tom Valeo, special to the Times
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send an email to email@example.com. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.