Friday, June 3, 2016

Book Review: "Modern Lovers" by Emma Straub

If as The Beatles said, "All you need is love," then why does it make everyone so crazy? Emma Straub's tremendously enjoyable Modern Lovers looks at love and sex and relationships among two intertwined families, and how we sometimes let our past history affect our present and our future.

Zoe, Elizabeth, and Andrew met in college, and the three of them, along with another fellow student, Lydia, formed a band called Kitty's Mustache, which gained some notoriety while they were at Oberlin. Elizabeth and Andrew became a couple fairly quickly, while adventurous Zoe was the lesbian everyone wanted to sleep with, and Lydia hung around the fringes, keeping most of the trio at arm's length. But as college bands do, the group disbanded, although Andrew and Elizabeth got married, and Lydia became a star on her own.

Fast forward more than a few years later. Elizabeth and Andrew live down the block from Zoe and her wife, Jane, in a Brooklyn neighborhood. Their teenage "cool" has definitely chilled, and been replaced by the same woes everyone has—raising children, financial concerns, marital challenges. When Elizabeth is contacted by a film producer interested in making a film about Lydia's life, wanting not only Elizabeth to allow the film to use the band's best song (which became a hit for Lydia a few years later), but also for the trio to allow their lives to be portrayed in the film, it causes some tension between Elizabeth and Andrew, who isn't interested in reopening that chapter of his life.

Meanwhile, the two couples are surprised when Zoe and Jane's brash daughter, Ruby, begins a relationship with Elizabeth and Andrew's son, Harry, which coaxes him out of his shell and encourages him to act spontaneously for the first time. But anxiety over their children's relationship takes a back seat, for as summer unfolds, the couples struggle with trust issues, questions about the future (and their futures), and how much the past should stay in the past.

"People didn't take turns having difficult moments; they came all together, like rainstorms and puddles."

I'm a fan of Emma Straub's. I really liked her last book, The Vacationers, and found this book a sweet, compelling, and thought-provoking read, even if the characters can be a little annoying. (But isn't that the way people are in real life as well?) I thought Straub really did a great job capturing the dramatic and the quiet moments of long-time marriages and friendships, and how people choose to deal with the crises (real or imagined) they're faced with. It's also an interesting look at trying to find your purpose in life even as you're nearing 50, or whether you're defined by the successes you had earlier in life.

This book doesn't really pack any surprises, but it's an enjoyable, well-written read. It made me smile, it made me nod my head from time to time, and it definitely got me invested in what was happening to the characters. Straub is a talented writer, and she's written another book that's really worth reading.


  1. This was definitely a "quiet," thoughtful book. Kinda predictable, but enjoyable, like you said. I found myself so interested in Lydia. She was like a ghost and yet she had so much influence on the characters.

    1. I agree completely! I was hoping she was going to turn out differently than their memories revealed but the way it unfolded made sense.