The discovery of the moral universe?

Sasha Weiss reviews Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.:

We’re also shown the cruel hilarity of writing a comedy of manners in a time and place where manners have eroded: What is the proper etiquette for Nate, Waldman asks, when he’s gone on a few lacklustre dates with a woman and she becomes pregnant? They decide together that an abortion is the only solution (and it becomes clear that Nate feels no spark of romance), he dutifully accompanies her to the clinic and, after keeping her company with movies and takeout that evening, calls only once, to see how she’s doing, but not again. When Nate runs into this woman a year later, and she sputters some furious words at him, how guilty should he feel for behaving more or less straightforwardly? Should he have assumed that a successful woman, with a large social network, really needed his continued attention and ministrations?

With her eye for social folly in the streets and restaurants of New York, Waldman resembles Edith Wharton. But where the manners and hierarchies of Wharton’s world are highly codified (and the scandal in her books is the arrival of someone who tries to break them), Waldman’s characters are set adrift in a world without clear rules, and they torment themselves trying to figure out if they’ve in fact violated some ill-defined conventions of courtship and sexual etiquette.


  1. To read list.

    • Matthew Lickona says

      I need to read just to find out what movie you watch with a girl you don’t really like after taking her to the clinic to abort the pregnancy you helped to start with her.

      • I want to see if these characters manage to find “an arrangement that works better” than either liberated fun or monogamous coupledom.

        The great question of our time: How does one extend the life of one’s arrangements? How to prevent arrangements from going sour? This is what I want to know.

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        Alfie is kid’s stuff.

  2. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says
    • de·range [dih-reynj]
      verb (used with object), de·ranged, de·rang·ing.
      1. to throw into disorder; disarrange.
      2. to disturb the condition, action, or function of.
      3. to make insane.

      • Matthew Lickona says

        Do the characters find a derangement that works better than liberated fun or monogamous coupledom?

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