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Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Cover to Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Both the parents and children are having a summer of love and discovery in Modern Lovers. It is a recipe for drama and comedy when parents are going through midlife crises while adolescents are pushing boundaries with teenaged angst. With Brooklyn as the setting, Emma Straub captures time’s passing for her characters as they move from adolescence to adulthood and question what it really means to grow up.

Now nearing fifty, Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe met at Oberlin years ago and were once the epitome of coolness with a hit song called “Mistress of Myself,” written by Elizabeth and sung by band member, Lydia, who died at 27 of a heroin overdose. Now living close to each other in Brooklyn, Elizabeth is selling real estate and is married to Andrew, who has never had a real job and rejects his moneyed parents, yet still relies on his trust fund. They adore their quiet son, Harry. Zoe has married Jane, runs a local restaurant, and has a daughter, Ruby, who is wild and cool but needs a little academic push to get into a good college. With echoes of the Shakespearean comedies, these Modern Lovers of both generations test the boundaries of love.

Both the parents and children are keeping secrets and sneaking around. Elizabeth gets news of a movie based on Lydia’s life and her song and goes behind Andrew’s back to seal the deal. She has also been secretly writing more songs. Andrew has kept back some information about his relationship with Lydia and is mixed up with a shady yoga instructor. Zoe and Jane are having marital problems. The kids are ditching SAT prep class and exploring a physical relationship. Adults are acting childish, and the adolescents are trying to be adult. Find out who accidentally joins a cult.

The past and present are fluid as the characters learn to be masters and mistresses of themselves. Andrew does not want to be ‘“old” but being naive and boyish becomes an issue. The author gives us a look at the layers of their childhoods that they bring to their adult lives. I loved the end where Straub gives us a snapshot of the characters’ futures.

If you enjoy Modern Lovers, try Straub’s The Vacationers or The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer.