The Love-Hate of Nathaniel P.


A “total Nathaniel P.” describes a certain kind of male literary intellectual, the opposite of the finance crowd who coined the phrase an insult. But among people who have actually read Adelle Waldman’s novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Nate Piven earns a lot of sympathy in spite of his disagreeable demeanor. Nate is the kind of character readers love to hate. Judy Berman, writing at Flavorwire, considers why we sympathize with such a loathsome character:

In fact, I’m certain that I hated him more often than I liked him. But it’s to Waldman’s credit that she isn’t just a brutal satirist and keen observer — she’s an author who truly thinks through her character’s motivations, tracking not just how her protagonist rationalizes his sometimes-reprehensible behavior, but how mood and circumstance change those justifications. She even gives him a few genuinely admirable attributes. And occasionally, in the midst of a self-righteous internal monologue, Nate makes a point that resonates.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →