Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true
“Fountain Of Sorrow”
“Late For The Sky” is my favorite album. Of all time.
Not at first. I liked this song, that I heard on the radio, but the rest didn’t penetrate, not yet. It happened a couple of years later, when I had a brand new stereo and too much time on my hands. That’s a funny thing about art, sometimes you’re not ready for it, but it’s there, waiting to be discovered when the time is right.
And it’s not like Jackson Browne has the best voice. And it’s not like the album contained a hit single. But it was mellifluous, and as you continued to listen it revealed its truth, which was all about relationships, life.
That’s the funny thing about guys. They rarely reveal their inner dialogue. They speak with their buddies about tech and cars and shy away from vulnerability, that’s what women are for. Wanna get in a guy’s pants? Don’t dress up like a Kardashian, don’t even bother to lose ten pounds, just draw him out, get him to talk, listen and he’s yours forever.
Or not. Because guys don’t know how to manage. You’re everything we want but if we’re involved with you we’re losing touch with who we once were and we keep wondering if your devotion portends a change in our lives that we will not be able to tolerate, that we’ll never be able to get back to the garden.
That’s what “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” is all about.
I can’t say I identify with the title character. A Harvard graduate with a slight belly who just sold his first novel and finds too many of the women in Brooklyn want him. Then again, they tell me women have become more aggressive in the years since I’ve gone to school. But when I was growing up not only could you still afford to live in Manhattan, your goal was to get straight out of Brooklyn. Still, there’s so much truth in “Nathaniel P.” that I just can’t stop reading it.
Oh, it’s one hot book.
But there’s also backlash. Maybe because its author, Adelle Waldman, broke through, she gained success. Writer jealousy is the worst. And if you characterize a scene, you’re inundated with the blowback of blowhards who tell you you just didn’t get it right.
But there’s something incredibly right about “Nathaniel P.,” in its descriptions of relationships.
Everyone I’ve ever known has wished me well
Anyway that’s how it seems it’s hard to tell
Maybe people only ask you how you’re doing
‘Cause that’s easier than letting on how little they could care
But when you know that you’ve got a real friend somewhere
Suddenly all the others are so much easier to bear
“The Late Show”
Nate actually had a hard time finding his niche. He straddled two worlds in high school, between sports and cool, and ended up nowhere.
In college, he fell in with the wrong crowd and it wasn’t until he was almost done that he found his friends. You know college, that’s where you make lifelong buddies, that’s where you discover who you are.
So now, he finds he can screw the beautiful, get laid regularly, but too often they can’t see the real Nate. That’s what draws him to Hannah. She’s real so he can be too. You don’t want to be a blank slate, you don’t want to be sans edges. It’s your personality we’re drawn to. Like Velcro, your sharp edges hook men, remember that women. Then again, what bothers Nate is when women get you but then start ruminating about it. Second-guessing themselves. This is when he’s turned off.
Now to see things clear it’s hard enough I know
While you’re waiting for reality to show
Without dreaming of the perfect love
And holding it so far above
That if you stumbled on to someone real you’d never know
“The Late Show”
Hannah is not as pretty as Elisa. What will Nate’s friends say?
Women… Wanna seal the deal? Make friends with your boyfriend’s friends. Don’t talk crap behind their back. Do your best. Otherwise, you might be abandoned. Worse, you run the risk of neutering your guy, sapping all the energy and personality from his bones to the point he becomes putty in your hands, but is positively dreadful in real life.
Not that breakups don’t occur.
Now the words had all been spoken
Somehow the feeling still wasn’t right
And still we continued on through the night
“Late For The Sky”
Are you gonna break up or stay together? The things we do for love. If you haven’t had that late night discussion, too often fueled by alcohol, wherein you recite hurts and flaws and question whether continuing makes sense, you’re not in a relationship, even if you think you are. Staying together is so hard. There are so many hurdles. You lose sight of what you’ve already built. Pay no attention to the people in the media, the celebrities who bed, wed and abandon. They’re emotional basket cases, they make you look positively normal. Get older and connection becomes ever more scary. But the thrill of it keeps you going.
We read fiction for truth.
And it’s there in “Nathaniel P.”
“She was someone Nate liked, someone he was always happy to see at a party. Yet he inevitably ran out of things to say to her.”
I remember meeting her for tennis, her passion. And when we went back to her apartment, with nothing left to say, I kept wondering how long do I have to sit here before I can bolt, without offending her.
You know, the people you see at parties you think would be just perfect if you were single. Then you are, and it never works. And even if you are single…you see someone across the room, you screw up your energy to make conversation…but it just can’t be done. At first you blame yourself, you try harder, then demoralized, you give up. It’s only much later that you realize it wasn’t you but them.
“He felt like reading. Or fooling around online.”
My two greatest passions! (Other than skiing.) What do you do when your girlfriend wants to talk or have sex or go out for an activity and you just want to be alone. How do you handle that? I’m not sure Nate knows either, but it comes up in this book.
“What began, after a few more minutes, to irritate him was that she didn’t even attempt to be engaging – made no effort toward wit or color in her replies. Only an attractive young woman would take for granted a stranger’s interest in the minutiae of her life.”
I’m the world’s greatest listener. And what bothers me most is after I’ve drawn you out, when you don’t ask a single question about me, happens all the time. It’s all me, me, me. It’s worn me out. I’ve about given up going to parties and events because I don’t want to be sold by everybody I run into. I have something to say, I like to talk too, if you want to be my friend, if you want something from me, listen! And then there are the people I just can’t crack. They’re looking over my shoulder for something better. The here and now is best. You can always dump me for better. When it appears!
“‘It’s actually amazingly annoying,’ Aurit continued. ‘But it’s also kind of tragic. She must alienate people all the time without having any idea why.’”
So this is what I’ve learned in psychotherapy. You’ve got a golf bag, with fourteen clubs, which one do you wanna use? Losers just go through life blindly, hitting the driver or the putter. Not only is that no way to play golf, it’s no way to live your life. If you’re not reading situations and figuring out how to interact, you’re home alone or losing more often than winning. I know you mean well, but if you want to get ahead you’ve got to work at it. You’ve got to question your personality, you’ve got to make changes. Not that you’ll never make mistakes, but the goal is to make fewer of them.
And I could go on forever.
But the point is, there’s a ton of truth in “Nathaniel P.” Which is even more surprising because it’s written from the male perspective by a woman. It’s rare one sex knows what goes on inside the mind of the other.
And I was thinking of “Fountain Of Sorrow” because I first heard it in the fall, and the leaves just changed in the book, it set my mind adrift. That’s how art works, it fires the synapses, it gets you thinking.
This is a guy’s book.
You might classify it as chick lit. You might think it’s too narrow, about the Brooklyn literary scene. But the personal is universal. And there’s a lot of personal in “Nathaniel P.” And the only thing that matters is the personal. Not the kind of car you drive or where your record is on the chart. That’s what screwed up the movies, it became about special effects and action, human truth was squeezed right out. But it’s evidenced in television. And when done right, it’s evidenced in fiction.
Read this book.