Modern Lovers by Emma Straub


In a gentrified neighborhood of New York, Jane, Zoe, and their 18 year-old daughter, Ruby, live down the street from Zoe’s married college bandmates, Andrew and Elizabeth, and their 17 year-old son Harry. Their band, Kitty’s Mustache had a moment of fame and a legendary fourth member who rose quickly to stardom without them and fell just as fast. Now the three remaining have entered into the normalcy of adulthood, married, had children, followed their passions, and settled in to life.

This was my first Emma Straub book, and I absolutely enjoyed every page of it. All the characters were interesting to me, even if I absolutely detested them (cough ANDREW cough). Zoe, the cool, hipster mom of the bunch, deals with parenting, connecting with her teen daughter, and a failing marriage all at once, as I think many people do. The emotional arc as she deals with her marital trouble left behind a really important message of process: She freaked out, she self-evaluated, she decided between fix and flee, and she ultimately decided to try to fix what was broken rather than leave the relationship behind. She is a flawed character in her parenting and in her marriage, but I was rooting for her the entire time because she was so wonderfully human. Similarly, Elizabeth is in denial about so many things, and watching her break out of her routine and take off her blinders to take control of her life was so satisfying.

Her husband, Andrew, was positively deplorable as a character. However, Straub writes him in with such finesse that I can hardly be mad about it. Hiding his privilege and his ignorance of said privilege carefully in his own actions and words, as well as through Elizabeth’s memories and perspective, and making him out to be selfish and absolutely ridiculous through his own first person narrative was genius and I really, really enjoyed my growing hatred of him throughout the novel.

This book also tackles other themes like the endurance of long friendships, the ebb and flow of relationships, and loyalty, yet always brings a modern take and a healthy dose of wit. The lens of multiple generations kept the story really fresh and showed the challenges of both raising children and being someone’s child. I ultimately really loved how the book shows that friendships and relationships aren’t one smooth, easy ride, and neither is growing up.

Finally, place acts as a character all its own in this book, as Straub brings to life Ditmas Park. The neighborhood and specifically Zoe and Jane’s house acts as a constant for the older generation, who are all experiencing change faster than they’d like. In turn, the neighborhood haven within the city of New York has clearly shaped the adolescence and personalities of Ruby and Harry. It was so much fun to read about this place, and I felt like it was somewhere I’d like to go live myself.

Overall? A great read built up on strong characters, plenty of wit, and relatable takeaways.

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PUBLICATION DETAILS: Riverhead Books ; May 30, 2017; 978-1594634680 ; 384 pp. Fiction -> Humor