I’m indebted to Gaby Young at Penguin Random House for a copy of Modern Lovers by Emma Straub in return for an honest review. Modern Lovers was publisheed by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books on 28th June 2016 and is available for purchase from Amazon, Waterstones, W H Smith, Foyles and from Hive.
Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy property, and start families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch – of sexuality, independence, and the ineffable alchemy of cool – to their own teenage offspring.
Back in the band’s heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her girl-next-door smile, rich-kid Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin, and beautiful Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same Brooklyn neighbourhood and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity (and start sleeping together), the fabric of the adult lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose can never be reclaimed.
My Review of Modern Lovers
Elizabeth and Andrew have a perfect teenage son, Harry. Married couple Zoe and Jane have a rather more wayward teenage daughter, Ruby. Life for all of them is about to become complex and confusing.
I really enjoyed this sharply observed study in what makes us human. Emma Straub knows exactly what each of her characters needs, hopes for and fears, whether they are a lesbian mother or a teenage virgin boy and she conveys that knowledge incisively but humanely so that the reader can’t fail to have sympathy for each of them. I have to confess that I found Andrew an idiot, but I’m sure he would not begrudge me that analysis if I were able to tell him so!
There were so many touches that made me smile as I understood completely the middle aged neuroses of those around 50 years old as they come to terms with the realisation they are no longer young. There’s real wit and humour too as all four adult characters face personal challenges. The past very definitely has a bearing on the present in the tangle of memory, shared experience and deceit so that any reader of a ‘certain age’ would find aspects that resonate in their own lives.
The narrative hinges over one summer as Jane and Zoe contemplate divorce and Elizabeth ‘helps’ the process. The plot plays second fiddle to brilliant characterisation with just a few events that have quite devastating results. Both teenagers, Harry and Ruby, reflect and echo the past mistakes their parents have made but prove themselves quite as mature as the adults.
It’s the character driven spats and arguments, the references to food, music and film and the naivety of the adults that make Modern Lovers such a fun read. Emma Straub explores fully the desire of us all to be loved, and I found Modern Lovers to be witty, brilliantly observed and entertaining with great insight into real life and real human beings. It’s no wonder Emma Straub is a best selling author in America – she will be here in the UK soon too.
About Emma Straub
Emma Straub is the New York Times-bestselling author of The Vacationers, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and the short story collection Other People We Married. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,Vogue, Elle, and Conde Nast Traveller, and she is a contributing writer for Rookie. Straub’s work has been published in fifteen countries.