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The Next Scott Nadelson

“You’re the next fucking Philip Roth,” an adoring fan tells Scott Nadelson after a book reading. But, “No one would ever come up to a young Jewish writer from New Jersey and say, You’re the next fucking Scott Nadelson,” writes Nadelson in his memoir, The Next Scott Nadelson: A Life in Progress. The writer’s angst stems from flattering yet annoying comparisons to Philip Roth: “It was inevitable, I suppose, for a young, male, Jewish writer from New Jersey, especially one who wrote about family and generational conflict.”

“You’re the next fucking Philip Roth,” an adoring fan tells Scott Nadelson after a book reading. But, “No one would ever come up to a young Jewish writer from New Jersey and say, You’re the next fucking Scott Nadelson,” writes Nadelson in his memoir, The Next Scott Nadelson: A Life in Progress. The writer’s angst stems from flattering yet annoying comparisons to Philip Roth: “It was inevitable, I suppose, for a young, male, Jewish writer from New Jersey, especially one who wrote about family and generational conflict.”

A native of New Jersey, Nadelson moves to Oregon after college. He starts working for a literary organization in the hopes of eventually getting away from it all and getting to writing, his real passion. Soon enough, he meets a woman and gets engaged, only to have her leave him a week after the wedding invitations are mailed out. Nadelson’s life is now in shambles. His lover leaves him, his cat has diabetes, and his parents are relentless in their endeavors to set him up with nice Jewish girls. He moves to an attic apartment, making rent payments with a credit card. The Next Scott Nadelson, then, is an essay in peeling the onion that is Nadelson’s psyche.

The narration does not follow a vertical trajectory pre- and post-break up. Rather, it is a careful arrangement of events and incidents that build up for the reader the complex character that is Scott Nadelson, the protagonist, the jilted lover, the writer. The autobiographical essays include stories from his formative years in high school and summer camp, his stint as a fundraiser for the literary organization, and his musings on favorite authors and musicians.

In reading this and other similar memoirs, one wonders if calamities of a certain kind only befall writers of a certain kind, or if writers are who they are because of the specific way in which they interpret and articulate life’s struggles, turning the seemingly mundane and prosaic into something profound. In Nadelson’s case, I would argue that it’s the latter—break-ups are common, and so are heartbreaks. “I’d always prided myself on being someone who appreciated the absurdity of life, who didn’t take it too seriously, but there’s an enormous difference, I discovered, between reading a Kafka novel or watching a Woody Allen movie and living inside of one,” the author writes. In Nadelson’s memoir, readers find a skilled writer whose introspection into his insecurities endears him to his readers and presents a fine example of memoir writing that is immediate, honest, visceral, and altogether a pleasure to read. It must also be said that Nadelson’s honesty and openness are rare and underappreciated qualities in memoir writing, especially one from a male perspective.

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