I heard of Emma Straub’s new book Modern Lovers – to be released by Michael Joseph on the 30th of June 2016 in the UK – thanks to Book Rioter and vlogger Wallace Yovetich. If you do now know who she is, then here is the video that made me request a review copy of Modern Lovers (thanks to Penguin Random House):
Also, shortly after I started reading the book I mentioned it on Twitter and fellow bloggers like Noami from The Writes of Woman said they had loved Straub’s previous novel The Vacationers – you can read her review here. That is when I was a hundred per cent sure I was in for a treat.
Modern Lovers is set in contemporary New York and it tells the story of Zoe, Elizabeth and Andrew, university friends who now live a few doors away from the other and whose children attend the same school. Zoe is married to Jane, a chef I would love to meet because her recipes in the book made me hungry just by reading them, and their daughter Ruby is causing a bit of mayhem in the supposedly stable suburban neighbourhood they live in. On the other hand, Elizabeth and Andrew married almost twenty years ago and they are now parents to well-behaved, sweet Harry. And although the novel could very well focus on the present and the hardship of being a parent, Straub creates beautifully crafted pasts for the main characters who, not only were friends back at Oberlin in the early 1990’s, but they also had a band. The lead singer, Lydia, now a member of the famous 27-club and main character to a Hollywood blockbuster, became nation-wide famous for a song called Mistress of Myself, which I would have paid thousands of euros to hear while I was reading the book. But what sets the plot in motion is whether Andrew, Elizabeth and Zoe really want their past and their youth in the big screen across the country for everyone to see.
Modern Lovers is one of the best books about life and growing up that I have read in a really long time. It reminded me a lot of Meg Wolitzer’s The interestings without all the things that I did not enjoy. Because of my age, I fall between the parents’ and the children’s generations in Modern Lovers. Yet, despite the different interests and lifestyles I felt myself sympathising with all the adult female characters – sorry, Andrew, but I did not get you – and Harry’s personal journey becoming an adult. It was difficult to read at times, but overall it felt good. I was in awe at Straub’s talent to portray different ethnicities and ages, even different personalities so that everyone felt unique yet connected to each other. The jewel of the novel, however, is Ruby: at eighteen she embodies freedom, hope, and a thirst for life and the world that is infectious and inspiring in equal parts.
It seems I have drifted away a bit from crime fiction to focus on books about life and the many decisions that actually shape who we become. My latest review of Not Working by Lisa Owens prompted one tiny scare when my friend Naomi thought I was defending adulthood as a fixed identity. That is not something I believe in: I think we are constantly developing and constructing ourselves, and we need to change in order to do that. Modern Lovers is a novel that deals with that change and how it may affect our relationships, even the most profound and significant ones with our children and our significant others. But Straub portrays change as something that we need even when it is hard, so it feels fresh and exciting – although terribly scary – and something to look for in life. In short, Modern Lovers by Emma Straub is one of the greatest novels I have read about life, change and all kind of relationships, even the ones we may have with our pets. It has a more profound tone than Not Working, and the story feels more realistic than The Interestings’. However, I would like to highlight all the characters in the novel are upper-middle class, which does not take away from the novel, but plays a huge role in how the characters behave (i.e. money is never a worry for them).
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub is set to become one of the books of the summer with a profound exploration of family life, yet full of hope and love for life. Modern Lovers come out on the 30th of June in the UK, released by Penguin Random House.