The London Review of Books, July 17, 2014 issue, arrived this week with four books given prominence on the front page. “How to Be an Asshole,” reviewed by Sheila Heti, was number four. I doubt anyone could turn himself into body orifice, but, what the heck, I’ve read books on everything else, why not a “how to be” an “ass” (if not an asshole) and aggravate family, loved ones, friends, neighbors and the old man next to you on the public bus going to pick up his unemployment check. I could hardly contain myself long enough to tear off the plastic wrapper and see man’s guide on how to aggravate and torment.
It turned out that “how to be an asshole” was merely an editor’s slug line to capture attention. Ms. Heti reviewed “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., by Adelle Waldman. (Windmill, 244 pp.) Nathaniel is a struggling writer trying to exist in Brooklyn while waiting for the miracle call from a publisher that something he has written is going to be published and please find an advance check enclosed. He is running one night to a party and encounters a woman he once dated.
“She tells him he is an ‘asshole’ for his behavior after her abortion in the wake of one of their trysts. (He phoned only once in the weeks after the operation, a quick check-up.) He’s annoyed by her accusation, and defensively soothes himself as he walks away: ‘She could have called him,’ he thinks.” This qualifies, surely and unequivocally, as either “ass" or “asshole” attitude and behavior.
The review (by a woman – Ms. Heti) goes on for approximately five and a quarter 14” columns and tells us it is important that a woman (Ms. Waldman) write about a man and his relationship with a woman named Hannah (not the one of the abortion) but who in the end settles on Greer “about whom there are many negative things” but whose story will “sell for six figures.” Hannah’s won’t: “She lacks charisma, is morally cautious, has an average body.”
Maybe Nathaniel is, after all, capable of being an orifice.