Book Review: “Modern Lovers” by Emma Straub

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

I haven’t read Straub’s earlier work, though I might well do so in the future.

Modern Lovers is set in contemporary Brooklyn (a place I’ve never been), where two families friends live a few houses apart. They have known each other since college. Specifically, since they were in a band together in college.

With kids finishing high school, the families have a pretty good and happy life, at least until they slip into troubled misunderstandings, and fussing about memories and secrets. I guess life can never be so good that you can’t figure out some way to make yourself unhappy.

In this story, there is lots of loving portrayal of how nice life can be in Brooklyn (I have to take her word for this), as well as detailed descriptions of tasty food and restaurants, and a bit lore of New York real estate. This Brooklyn is a weird combination of small town niceness with a sophisticated New York shrug—and trains that will take you to amazing places.

As the plot unfolds, a variety of mundane and unexpected events happen. I don’t know anything about life in Brooklyn, so I can’t judge just how improbable some of these events might be.

The important thing is that I really like the people, not least the teenagers who really are all right. Watching them mess things up, generally for stupid reasons, is like watching friends fight—it’s sad to watch, and you really want to make them stop, and just be themselves.

With this group of characters, Straub juxtaposes the anxieties of the middle-aged parents who once were cool (they had a band, and one song was a hit for a dead-at-27 diva), and their kids who are insecure and uncertain of their own coolness and what they want in the future. Everyone loves each other, and wants to understand, even if it seems difficult to really know what the others are really thinking.

Nevertheless, the novel is light, and we never doubt that things will work out. It’s going to be alright.

I really enjoyed this story, however unrealistic.

  1. Emma Straub, Modern Lovers, New York, Riverhead Books, 2016.


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