Debut Author Snapshot: Adelle Waldman

Posted by Goodreads on June 25, 2013
Hipster men, beware! Brooklyn writer Adelle Waldman has exposed your game. She delves into the thoughts, fears, and intimacy issues of the urban male in her debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. Her protagonist, Nate Piven, is a rising star on Brooklyn's literary scene, but his path is paved with angry ex-girlfriends and cringe-worthy dating missteps. Waldman writes from the male point of view, explaining, "The reader is, in a sense, dating Nate, trying all the time to figure out what to make of him and how much to trust him, just as we do when we are seeing someone." Is he a jerk or just, well, a regular dude?

A former journalist for the New Haven Register, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and The Wall Street Journal, Waldman now focuses on fiction writing. She shares some snapshots that capture the writers' lifestyle in Brooklyn—a favored stomping ground of aspiring and celebrated novelists.

The backyard of Outpost, Waldman's favorite Brooklyn coffee shop. "Brooklyn residents spend a lot of time in coffee shops not only because it's nice to be around other people...but also because real estate is so expensive that apartments are often small and crowded."
Goodreads: What deep, dark secrets of the male mind did you learn as you wrote this book?

Adelle Waldman: Many! Looking back, I feel as if I was an innocent when I started. One of the things that surprised me, as a woman, was that relationships played a smaller role in my protagonist's mental life than I think they do in the mental lives of many women. That is, as much as Nate thinks about women—and about sex and about whether or not he is desirable to women—his self-esteem is not dependent on whether he is in a relationship. He is very consumed by his career, and he spends more time thinking about women generally than he does worrying about any one relationship.

As women, I think many of us are also consumed by our careers, but we also oftentimes spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about the ins and outs of our romantic relationships. That reflects how important they are to many of us. (And by the way, I'm not saying I think the way women are is worse—or better—or that any of this is innate. I think a lot of what I am talking about is a function of social forces that play out differently for men and women—the way single women are perceived and the assumptions that are made about a woman who is not in a relationship, which tend to be less flattering than the assumptions made about single men.) When Nate is in a relationship that begins to founder, his default is generally to pull away rather than think about what the underlying issues are because the relationship is not so deeply linked up with his sense of self. He doesn't have the incentive to investigate it or his own psychology. This is what is, ultimately, so confusing for the woman on the other side, who assumes—not unreasonably—that his investment is at least proportional to hers. I don't think all men are like Nate, but I think some are, and that's something women should keep in mind.

Street life in Williamsburg. "The picture is of nothing special, just the streets on a nice spring evening after work. But it captures [Brooklyn's] diversity and its life. [It's] also very close to where the opening scene of my book takes place—when Nate runs into his ex-girlfriend Juliet on the street."
GR: Did you seek the help of male informants—friends, family, significant others—in gathering material for Nate's point of view?

AW: I've spent countless hours thinking about and talking to female friends about my relationships and theirs; together we've analyzed the behavior of so many bad boyfriends. So I had a lot of material to draw on when I began this novel. I also have two older brothers and have always had male friends. While I didn't explicitly conduct any interviews for this book, I did learn a lot from those relationships. And I did borrow a good line here and there from various of my male friends—little nuggets that revealed something of "guy think" to me.

GR: One Goodreads reviewer says, "If you care enough about Nate to truly loathe him (or at least disapprove of him), then [Waldman's] done her job." Do you like Nate? Do you have to like a character to write him or her well?

AW: What was most important to me was that Nate feel real. I also felt that I needed to be fair to him. What I mean is, I didn't want the book to come off as a screed, intended to show Nate up as a jerk. I wanted Nate to behave in ways that I think are typical of a certain type of guy, and while I wanted to be unsparing in exposing how he thinks, for better and for worse, I didn't want to exaggerate or make the character into a caricature. At the same time, I tried to stop myself from analyzing Nate too much when I was writing the book, from deciding whether I thought he was good or bad. What seemed more important was that I inhabited his mind as fully as possible. I figured once I had made him feel real, I could then stand back and judge. But I didn't want to judge first and then write the character to conform to my preexisting opinion, which seemed like a recipe for creating a one-dimensional character.

"One of the great advantages of Brooklyn is that you get views of Manhattan. Sometimes it pays to be on the outside looking in. Shot from the penthouse bar at the very hip Wythe Hotel."
Nonetheless, there were times when, as a woman, I was definitely very upset by something I had written. There were nights when I came out of my little office and felt angry at my husband just for being a man and for being, presumably, like Nate in some ways. (My husband, understandably, thought it was a little unfair that I was mad at him for things my imaginary character said and did in my imaginary world.)

GR: What are some of your favorite books about the intricate dance of men and women?

AW: What comes to mind first and foremost are a lot of older novels. Relationships have changed so much—not only in terms of our more casual attitudes about sex, but even the idea that we have long-term monogamous relationships prior to, or simply distinct from, marriage—but I think that in terms of the deeper psychology of romantic relationships, much has stayed the same. The way Henry Crawford is a cad in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park would fundamentally be as caddish now as it was then—it's his willingness to sacrifice other people's happiness for the satisfaction of his own vanity that makes him unappealing, not his failure to conform to old-fashioned ideas of sexual morality. Similarly, Lydgate's susceptibility to beautiful, trivial Rosamond in Middlemarch is also timeless: Lydgate is ultimately a victim of his own sexist ideas about women, and the specific turn of his sexism, the way what he looked for in women was primarily ornamental, is far from dated. Julian Sorel's egoistic vacillations in The Red and the Black, Madame Bovary's conflation of drama and exultation with love—these things are timeless.

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Charly (new)

Charly Wow, she has a solid backlog of literary influences! I may have to check this one out.

message 2: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Devoogd It would be interesting to see what a women thinks a man thinks by talking to her girlfriends and having brothers. Just a tip: if you are going to write a book about the way men think, interview some men. Heck, if this book sells, maybe I will write a book about the way women think by interviewing my male friends.

message 3: by Ella (new)

Ella Medler This sounds like my kind of book! :)

message 4: by Patty (new)

Patty Campbell I think getting into the mind of the opposite sex can be a minefield. There are certain characteristics, or are they cliches? attrtibutable to each sex. I have written from the male pov in my books from my limited experience as the mother of sons, and their male friends. Very tricky. Once a Marine by Patty Campbell

message 5: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Glenn wrote: "It would be interesting to see what a women thinks a man thinks by talking to her girlfriends and having brothers. Just a tip: if you are going to write a book about the way men think, interview s..."

Please do write that one!!!! I would be very interested to know. Thanks

message 6: by Christine (new)

Christine Rebbert Wow, some snippiness going on here! Men have been writing books about what women think for centuries, and this author is certainly not the first to "get into the mind of the opposite sex". I should think there's more to say about this book than this one aspect.

message 7: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Christine, I have great expectations for this read. I enjoy reading about NYC as I once lived there and during the time frame this author addresses. I expect there will be some parallels to my own experiences which will have me laughing and crying at the same time. There are social pressures revolving around the arts that push and pull the direction of our travels. Honesty, I'm not sure it's all that complicated but I'm interested to read how this author sees it.

I'm always interested in how others perceive the dance between men and women. Glen clearly has a point, however I think it's more interesting to examine the topic without trying to balance the male and female point of view.

message 8: by Shilpa (new)

Shilpa Rathi This sounds really interesting....The author it seems has lot to offer -the cityscape of NYC and Brooklyn.....with deep insight into the psyche of urban man...certainly this doesnt sound like worthless potboiler.....

message 9: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Mcfadden Colum McCann is the master of writing about women. He is better than a woman writing about women. Check him out.

message 10: by Alicia (new)

Alicia It's said that to know a man is to know his relationship with his mother. The moving read for me in this regard was "Angela's Ashes" Frank McCourt. It opens with these unforgettable lines: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

The question is...doesn't this also hold true for women and their relationship with dad? We'll see where this author takes us?

message 11: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Mcfadden Probably not relevant but McCourt and McCann were good friends.

message 12: by Alicia (new)

Alicia I have not read McCann, the subject matter is not what I would normally lean towards however I have added the title 'Trans Atlantic" based on your comments. I'm a big fan of McCourt so lets see where it goes. Thank!

message 13: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Mcfadden Mccann won national book award for Let the Great World Spin. Hope you enjoy his novel.

back to top