New York City is that kind of city where there are actually many “cities” residing within it. What I mean is that “New York City” will be a very different beast depending on what social circles you run around with. In this particular case it’s the upper middle class transplant with names like “Nate”, “Hannah”, “Elisa”, “Aurit” and "Greer" - all well-to-do WASP types (except for Nate) who are highly educated, ultra socially self-conscious, hyper-judgmental and pseudo-intellectual, with all the name dropping and literary references you'd expect from a group like this. They are the types who came out of very privileged homes to go “slumming” in the not-quite-fully-gentrified neighborhoods of Brooklyn in order to live the “chic urban lifestyle” that they were originally so far removed from for most of their lives. Not quite Hipsters but close enough to be repugnant and annoying. Kudos to Adelle Waldman for hitting the nail on the head with these characters. The trouble is, I can’t decide whether or not this is a satire or something of a tribute.
The story - put simply - is about a semi-successful writer - who lives in Brooklyn, naturally - named Nathaniel Piven and we follow his dating life for about a year (as well as getting much back story about his former loves). Nate, as he is called by his friends, is a sort of wallflower who uses his “intellectual” veneer as a defense mechanism but in reality he is kind of a prick. Up until his bourgeoning success, he wasn't the typical "Alpha-Male" but is just beginning to discover his "allure" among worthy women within his social circle He debates his friends about the pet "issues" of the day (i.e. "Liberal Guilt", shopping at Whole Foods the "tyranny" of the smart phone, etc), judges his dates based on what books they read, and tries very hard to live “the writer’s life” - contemporary Brooklyn style (i.e. gentrified Brooklyn). He meets his match with Hannah, the highly educated and ambitious young woman (also a writer and literary type) who he treats like dog shit and the more unappreciative of her he becomes, the more Hannah continues to try to be understanding of him. It's the NYC dating scene through the eyes of a self-absorbed, misogynistic young man and the Brooklyn hipster(ish) literati set. The world Waldman writes of is alien to me but not unknown. I had the misfortune to socialize with people like this and that’s what made this novel so irritating to me. This is a social group I want nothing to do with and don’t have anything to do with, thank God.
But my ranting about the characters that populate this story has nothing to do with Adelle Waldman’s writing, which is good. It’s just a shame that it had to be wasted on yet another paean to the Brooklyn Literati (or is it? - I seriously can’t tell). Her gifts for getting into the heads of these characters and portraying them so ultra-realistically is a testament to be observational skills as well as her creative abilities. I can only imagine what she could come up with had she decided to write about people other than these self-absorbed cretins.
Perhaps I’m just a little too old to relate to this - or it’s the fact that I’m so far removed from this social scene - that I found this novel a bit difficult to enjoy, mainly because I wanted to hit all these people over the head with a ball peen hammer. Think something like a “Hipster Sex and The City” and you’ll get a very good idea what this book is. Not my cup of tea but if you’re looking for a slice - and a very thin one at that - of contemporary New York City life, this will definitely satisfy you.