Thursday, December 29, 2016
Book review: Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
Elizabeth, Andrew, Zoe, and Lydia were in a band in college. Now it's 20 years later and Elizabeth and Andrew are married with a son, Harry. Zoe is married to Jane, who she runs a restaurant with, and they have a daughter, Ruby. Lydia gained immense fame after college as a singer, mostly thanks to her big hit which was written by Elizabeth, with music by all four of them. She died at twenty-seven. Elizabeth and Andrew live on the same block in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, as Zoe and Jane. And now Hollywood has come knocking, wanting the three surviving bandmates to sign away their life rights and rights to their songs for a bio-pic about Lydia. Meanwhile, Harry has a huge crush on Ruby, who turns up in his summer SAT prep class. Andrew, independently wealthy, is in another period where he's looking for purpose and he stumbles across a yoga center of sorts. Elizabeth, the together one, a real estate agent, is taking Zoe to see apartments as she's thinking of divorcing Jane.
Naturally, all of this comes to a head over the summer, with poor Elizabeth really getting the brunt of things. At times it's hard to feel sympathy for Andrew, but Ms. Straub is holding out a few crucial pieces of information until late in the game, which make readers reevaluate, a couple of times. After all, none of us can ever really know the whole story, even when we see it from multiple sides, can we? It's still from a person's perspective with their accompanying baggage, emotions, and blind spots.
The book was really engaging, and the neighborhood is such an important element that it's nearly a character itself (and made me wonder if I missed out on the one place in the five boroughs that might have worked for us, but that ship has sailed.) The setup was pretty unique, and I loved the reflections on long friendships and on who are the leavers and who are the left. The book isn't super-deep or profound, but it nevertheless manages in a light way to deal with real crises of real people, and it felt very honest and true. Not traumatic, but not fluffy. A good middle ground.
I received this book as a gift.