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Modern Lovers


Modern Lovers

What does love look like when your children are grown? What happens to a marriage when it's been stable for so long that it’s stagnated? How do you ever bring up that secret you've always meant to divulge, now that perhaps it would be better to take it to your marital grave? What does queer love look like after #lovewins, after you've "arrived" and "succeeded"? MODERN LOVERS gets it. Emma Straub skillfully weaves disparate characters and desires through a transitional period of their lives, and grapples with questions of love, self-love and identity in a refreshingly authentic yet charming voice.

Andrew, Elizabeth and Zoe were bandmates in college, along with a fourth member, Lydia. Lydia went solo and skyrocketed to fame on a song that really belonged to all of them, but she burned out and succumbed to the lifestyle at 27 like so many other rock stars. Andrew and Elizabeth married, had a son, and ended up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood as Zoe, her wife and their daughter. Andrew and Elizabeth coast on his family money and her real estate license, while Zoe and Jane enjoy co-running a high-end restaurant. On paper, they and their kids should be happy. But when they’re approached by a film company that wants to make a movie about Lydia and their band, past secrets come to light, and they’re forced to confront the disparities between their college-age dreams and mid-life realities.

"Straub’s characters are fresh, appropriately 'modern,' and struggling with issues that are at once timely and timeless but explored in a contemporary context that’s addictively accessible."

The spark seems to have faded from Jane and Zoe’s once-fierce love, and Elizabeth can’t help but recognize some of their issues reflected in her own marriage. While her husband tries to find meaning in his complacent lifestyle, Elizabeth experiences a myriad of emotions, from jealousy to grief, as the film process reminds her of what once was and what could have been. Meanwhile, their son Harry is harboring a serious crush for Ruby, Jane and Zoe’s daughter. Once childhood friends, they’re nearing college-age and he doesn’t want to be thought of as her parents’ friends’ kid anymore.

Straub expertly illuminates that sense of narrowing, of is this all there is? When you’re forced to relive your glory days --- especially when they’re revisited through the artifice of Hollywood --- it can highlight just how far you are from where you thought you’d be. Sometimes it’s not even that, but simply the sheer absence of possibility, of all the paths you thought you may take one day, until you reach a bridge and realize you’re crossing it without having made any of those journeys upon which you always intended to embark. Love isn’t a clean thing --- neither is success or friendship. Love isn’t a destination, but an ongoing process, a series of questions you have to work to find the answer to --- only to discover there probably aren’t any answers; you just need to have someone who’s willing to keep asking with you.

Straub’s characters are fresh, appropriately “modern,” and struggling with issues that are at once timely and timeless but explored in a contemporary context that’s addictively accessible. I’m sure it helps that this reviewer is a native New Yorker, but Straub seriously gets New York right, evoking everything from the changing neighborhoods to the culture of private schools and beyond. She also absolutely nails how some LGBTQ+ married couples feel more pressure to stay together after fighting for the right to marry, how some children of LGBTQ+ couples are more comfortable exploring their sexuality or following a potentially non-normative life path that works for them, and how sometimes feelings for your best friend can spend years treading that line between platonic life partner and something more.

Overall, MODERN LOVERS is almost painfully authentic. It’s about life’s constant shifting, growing in one direction or the other. Straub understands people, time, change and introspection. Her work names and explores what we might take for granted --- she asks the questions we’re afraid, as we grow into and through adulthood, that everyone else already knows the answers to. The book lives in the kinetic moment of the unfurling realization that the future, once sprawling out in all directions, now stops short in the blunt present. Here we are. Here is where that love took us. What now?

You’ll love asking those questions with Emma Straub and MODERN LOVERS.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on June 1, 2016

Modern Lovers
by Emma Straub

  • Publication Date: May 30, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 1594634688
  • ISBN-13: 9781594634680