Modern Lovers

Modern Lovers

3.3 4
by Emma Straub

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“Ms. Straub writes with such verve and sympathetic understanding of her characters. . .[An] entertaining novel. . . deftly and thoughtfully written.” – Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

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“Ms. Straub writes with such verve and sympathetic understanding of her characters. . .[An] entertaining novel. . . deftly and thoughtfully written.” – Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“It’s ‘Friends’ meets ‘Almost Famous’ meets the beach read you’ll be recommending all summer.” –TheSkimm

Straub serves up a perfect slice of the zeitgeist with this entertaining novel about former college bandmates raising their precocious children while grappling with marital tensions and midlife crises.” –People, Named one of "Summer's Best Books"

From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Vacationers, a smart, highly entertaining novel about a tight-knit group of friends from college— and what it means to finally grow up, well after adulthood has set in.

Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch (of sexuality, independence, and the ineffable alchemy of cool) to their own offspring.

Back in the band's heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her Midwestern smile, Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin, and Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same neighborhood deep in gentrified Brooklyn, and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity (and start sleeping together), the fabric of the adult lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose—about themselves, and about the famous fourth band member who soared and fell without them—can never be reclaimed.

Straub packs wisdom and insight and humor together in a satisfying book about neighbors and nosiness, ambition and pleasure, the excitement of youth, the shock of middle age, and the fact that our passions—be they food, or friendship, or music—never go away, they just evolve and grow along with us.

Editorial Reviews

B&N Reads
What happens to cool kids when they grow up? That is the question Emma Straub poses in this slice of post-hipster Brooklyn life. Elizabeth, Andrew, Lydia, and Zoe were the coolest of the cool back in college in the '90s—and they had the angsty alternative band to prove it. Now, though, Elizabeth and Andrew are married with a teen son, Harry, and Zoe is married with a teen daughter, Ruby. After buying out the other band members, Lydia rocketed to fame on one of the band's tracks before her sudden rockstar's death. Read More
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
However familiar the overall dynamics of Modern Lovers might be, Ms. Straub writes with such verve and sympathetic understanding of her characters that we barely notice. Reading this novel has all the pleasures of reading one of Anne Tyler's compelling family portraits—but transported from Baltimore to Brooklyn, peopled with aging hipsters…and doused with a Lorrie Moore-like sense of the absurdities of contemporary life…In [Straub's] capable hands…even the most hackneyed occasions are transformed into revealing or comic moments…She captures the jagged highs and lows of adolescence with freshness and precision, and the decades-long relationships of old college friends with a wry understanding of how time has both changed (and not changed) old dynamics. Like The Vacationers, this entertaining novel takes place during one momentous summer, and with its sunny cover and May 31 publication date, the book looks like designated vacation reading—but it's just too deftly and thoughtfully written to be relegated merely to the beach.
The New York Times Book Review - Alex Kuczynski
…witty…Modern Lovers is a wise, sophisticated romp through the pampered middle-aged neuroses of urban softies.
Publishers Weekly
★ 03/14/2016
Back in the 1980s at Oberlin College, in Ohio, Elizabeth, Andrew, Zoe, and Lydia had a band called Kitty’s Mustache. Elizabeth wrote a song called “Mistress of Myself”; Lydia sang it and made it famous, but she died of a heroin overdose at age 27. Two decades later, Elizabeth and Andrew are married and have a son, Harry. Living nearby in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park neighborhood are Zoe and her wife, Jane, with their daughter, Ruby. They own a neighborhood restaurant called Hyacinth. Midlife crises are roiling both marriages: Zoe and Jane are considering divorce; Andrew, the scion of wealthy parents, has never held a meaningful job and is now bemoaning his failure to find fulfillment, and Elizabeth sells real estate in Ditmas and feels responsible for everyone. To further complicate matters, teenagers Harry and Ruby suddenly discover sex. Into this volatile mix comes a Hollywood producer who’s making a movie about Lydia and urgently needs the former band members to sign over their rights to the iconic song. Straub (The Vacationers) spins her lighthearted but psychologically perceptive narrative with a sure touch as she captures the vibes of midlife, middle-class angst and the raging hormones of youth. Straub excels in establishing a sense of place: the narrative could serve as a map to gentrified Brooklyn; it’s that detailed and visually clear. Events move at a brisk pace, and surprises involving resurgent passion enliven the denouement. Readers will devour this witty and warmly satisfying novel. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME Entertainment. (May)
From the Publisher
"Reading this novel has all the pleasures of reading one of Anne Tyler's compelling family portraits - but transported from Baltimore to Brooklyn, peopled with aging hipsters (instead of perennially middle-aged folks) and doused with a-Lorrie Moore-like sense of the absurdities of contemporary life." -Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"The humorous insight Straub brings to the page about how everyday lives are lived will make for immersive reading and rich conversation. . .-Straub recounts her characters' yearnings with love and empathy, which makes the book's wit --and Modern Lovers is screamingly funny -glow with warmth." -USA Today -

"Straub serves up a perfect slice of the zeitgeist with this entertaining novel about former college bandmates raising their precocious children while grappling with marital tensions and midlife crises." -People

"[Modern Lovers] has the smart, cool sensibility of Straub's other novels, and you're sure to love this one just as much."--Elle

"Straub lets her characters fall apart and come together in their own messy, refreshingly human ways- always older, sometimes wiser, but never quite done coming of age." –Entertainment Weekly

"Summer in the city has never felt so good. . .-Modern Lovers celebrates the updated look and feel of familial love and all of its complexities. Straub's clever and perceptive observations on growing up are gentle reminders that coming of age isn't just for kids." -The Washington Post

"With a real-estate agent, a chef, a yogi 'guru,' and teens sneaking off to do what teens do when teens sneak off- Straub's latest has something for everyone."--Marie Claire

"A lovely, satisfying early-summer read."-–

"Thoughtful and hilarious, Modern Lovers proves growing up doesn't stop in adulthood." -Real Simple

"[Emma Straub] delights in-this multi-generational tale." -Good Housekeeping

"Bestseller Emma Straub gives us an insightful look into middle age, parenthood, and the funny way that passions never fade, no matter how much time passes by." –Harper's Bazaar

"Straub has a gift for exposing larger truths through small, telling details. Her warmth and sense of humor electrify every page."-–New York Magazine, Vulture

"Really entertaining. The characters are complex and likeable… one of those stories that makes you realise that life really does run away from you." –The Guardian (UK)

"Straub has a knack for keeping relationship drama amusing." –The Boston Globe

"[Straub has a] gentle way of producing meaning, allowing characters' trains of thought to run freely until they end up exposing a truth at once personally significant and broadly aphoristic. The deepening feels so natural you hardly notice it happening, and then you wonder how you arrived at such an inward-facing, luminous place."-–Slate

"Modern Lovers examines love as both a fictionalized form of entertainment and very real component of the human condition. It pains us, excites us, frustrates and compels us to do stupid and extraordinary things - and yet we seem ever-willing to come back for more."-–Salon-

"A hilarious and heartfelt look at love and friendship,-Modern Lovers-is this summer's page-turning must-read." –Mashable


"[Modern Lovers] is a treat. . . a fabulous coming-of-age novel about women entering into a new era of their lives." -Refinery29

"In-Modern Lovers,-Straub's new intertwined families are stuck in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, for the summer, but there are plenty of fireworks - including a teen romance and a potential movie about the friends' punk-rock past."-–Newsday-

"A life-long friend group much like the Friends gang are now in their fifties, and their kids are becoming adults. Much like Monica, Rachel, Joey, Chandler, Ross, and Phoebe, the characters are all neighbors with each other, this time in Brooklyn. As they grapple with their new place in life, you'll be drawn completely in by their stories and struggles."--Bustle

"[Booksellers] are high on this-Big Chill-for-Gen X story from the author of-The-Vacationers." –Hollywood Reporter

"A smart, thoughtful novel about growing up and getting older."--PopSugar

"A gentle and quirky story about growing up and letting go,-Modern Lovers-is the perfect summer read: It's breezy yet relatable and wildly entertaining."-–PureWow

"Modern Lovers takes place in a Brooklyn so brilliantly true to real life, it's hard to ignore. A summer read of the highest order."---HelloGiggles

"Sweet, charming, funny and gut-wrenching." -The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"[Straub] sets her observational wit on three middle-aged friends (former college bandmates) who find themselves in a crisis of identity as their now-grown children head off to college themselves." -Huffington Post

"What happens when you age out of your cool? It's a topic that filmmaker Noah Baumbach has explored, and Straub is his literary counterpart. . .- With the multigenerational structure, it would be easy to compare Straub to other masters of the genre like Meg Wolitzer or Jennifer Egan, but she's already a master in her own right after The Vacationers, so Modern Lovers should prove to be a witty romp." -The Millions

"An enthralling page-turner with conflicts and mysteries that will keep readers riveted."--Bust

"This is a coming of age story for the parents and children alike, each of who grows up during the course of the novel. . .-Straub treats her characters with a rare good humor and affection, which is what makes Modern Lovers such an entertaining, yet affecting, story."--The Examiner

"Straub has such a funny, perceptive writing style, you feel like you're close friends with them all." -Cup of Jo

"Wise and often hilarious,-Modern Lovers-is a testament to how the passions and secrets of our youth can last well into adulthood."--Buzzfeed

Library Journal
★ 04/15/2016
An engaging story of shifting relationships, Straub's third novel (The Vacationers; Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures) focuses on Elizabeth, Andrew, and Zoe, who have been friends since their college days. They now live close to one another in a gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood. But it's been years since college, and they are all facing midlife reassessments. Elizabeth throws herself into her work, Andrew finds his way to a local commune, and Zoe considers divorce. Meanwhile, their children start sleeping together. All the secrets from those long-ago college days begin to surface when a movie company shows up asking about the fourth member of their briefly successful college band—Lydia, who went on to fame without them, and died young. Sprinkled with humor and insight, this is a Brooklyn novel with heart. Straub's characters are well rounded and realistic; even the teenagers are sympathetic. Zoe's wife, Jane, is a chef, and her love of food adds to the sensory appeal of the book. VERDICT Recommended for readers who enjoy domestic dramas built around the small moments of life. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/15.]—Melanie Kindrachuk, Stratford P.L., Ont.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-05-07
Middle-aged parents and hormone-addled teenagers all have some growing up to do—entertainingly—in the course of one hot Brooklyn summer. Straub's last novel, The Vacationers (2014), took place on Mallorca and was a perfect vacation between two covers. Her new book is set in a grittier locale, but in Straub's fond gaze, it too feels like an enchanted land out of a Shakespearan comedy: "Ditmas Park was great in the summertime. The sycamores and oaks were full and wide, leaving big pools of shade along the sidewalks. Families were on their porches…Neighbors waved." She takes us inside two of the area's rambling yet run-down Victorian houses and introduces their owners: Elizabeth, a real estate agent, and Andrew, whose family trust has allowed him to get to his late 40s without much of a career, and their sweet son, Harry; and Zoe and Jane, who own a busy restaurant and live with their daughter, Ruby, who describes herself as having a "bad attitude." Years ago, Elizabeth, Andrew, and Zoe were in a band together at Oberlin, which would have been completely forgotten except that their fourth band mate, Lydia, had a smash hit as a solo artist with one of Elizabeth's songs, "Mistress of Myself," before dying of an overdose. Now Hollywood has come calling, wanting to make a movie about Lydia, but for some reason Andrew doesn't want to sell their rights to the song. Meanwhile, Zoe thinks she wants a divorce, Harry and Ruby start sleeping together when they're supposed to be studying for the SAT, Andrew is hanging out at a creepy yoga studio, and Elizabeth frets that their idyllic life might be changing and tries to hold them all together. In chapters whose points of view rotate among the players, Straub pays close and loving attention to what foods her characters eat, what they have hanging on their walls, where their money comes from and goes, and the subtle fluctuations of their varying relationships. She's a precise and observant writer whose supple prose carries the story along without a snag. Straub's characters are a quirky and interesting bunch, well aware of their own good fortune, and it's a pleasure spending time with them in leafy Ditmas Park.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Zoe heard some shouting from the house. She shut the radio off and rolled down the window. Ruby and Jane both hustled out the front door, Ruby in the white fringe dress and Jane in a mask of disbelief.

“Are you kidding me with this?” Jane said, poking her head into the passenger-side window.

“Mom, God, it’s just a dress,” Ruby said, slumping into the backseat. “That is definitely not an entire dress.” Jane let herself collapse into the seat, her heavy body rocking the small car as she pulled the door shut and buckled her seat belt. She spoke without turning to face Zoe. “I can’t believe you agreed to let her wear that.”

“I’m right here, you know,” Ruby said.

Jane kept staring straight ahead. “Let’s just go. I can’t even.”

Zoe put the car in reverse. She caught Ruby’s eye in the rearview mirror. “We’re so excited for you, sweetie.”

Ruby rolled her eyes. It was an involuntary gesture, like breathing, an automatic response to whatever her mothers said. “I can tell,” she said. “You could always just drop me off with Chloe’s family, they’re going to the River Café for dinner.”

“The River Café isn’t what it used to be,” Jane said. “Those stupid Brooklyn Bridge chocolate cakes. It’s for tourists.”

“I know,” Ruby said, and turned to look out the window.

When they got to the school, Jane hopped out and switched places with Zoe—someone was going to have to circle the block to find a parking spot, and they both knew that Ruby would have a meltdown if she had to drive past her school three hundred times before going inside. All the seniors and their families were milling around in front and in the lobby, everyone dressed like they were going to the prom. Whitman didn’t have a prom, of course—that was too square, too suburban. Instead they had a party with the entire faculty in a converted loft space in Dumbo. Zoe was waiting for the e-mail to go out that the students and teachers had been caught having a group orgy in the bathroom. Most of the teachers looked like they could have been students, maybe held back a couple of grades. The young men almost always grew scruffy little beards or goatees, probably just to prove that they could. Ruby had skipped the party, “Because eww,” which Zoe secretly agreed with.

Zoe let Ruby lead her through the crowd in front of the school, weaving in and out. She nodded and waved to the parents she knew, and squeezed the arms of some of the kids. It was a small school, and Ruby had gone there since she was five, and so Zoe knew everyone, whether or not Ruby deigned to speak to them. Ruby’s intermittently loving and cruel cluster of girlfriends—Chloe, Paloma, Anika, and Sarah—were already inside, posing for pictures with their parents and siblings, and Zoe knew that Ruby was likely to ditch her and Jane for her friends as soon as possible. Impending-graduation hormones made regular puberty hormones seem like nothing—Ruby had been a lunatic for months. They went inside through the heavy front door, and Zoe saw Elizabeth and Harry across the lobby.

“Hey, wait,” she said to Ruby, pointing. Ruby reluctantly slowed to a stop and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Ruby! Congratulations, sweetheart!” Elizabeth, bless her, couldn’t be stymied by Ruby’s death stares. “That dress looks phenomenal on you. Yowza!” Zoe watched her daughter soften. She even managed to squeeze out a tiny smile.

“Thanks,” Ruby said. “I mean, it’s just high school. It’s really not that big of a deal. It’s really only a big deal if you don’t graduate from high school, you know what I mean? Like, I also learned how to walk and to use a fork.”

Harry chuckled. “I can tie my shoes,” he said. He kicked his toe into the floor for emphasis, and also to avoid looking Ruby in the eye. Even though Harry and Ruby had grown up together, had lived three houses apart for most of their lives, things had changed in the last few years. When they were children, they’d played together, taken baths together, built forts and choreographed dances. Now Harry could barely speak in front of her. Mostly, when he was standing next to Ruby, all Harry could think about was a photograph that his mother had on her dresser of him and Ruby when he was one and she was two, both of them standing naked in the front yard. His penis looked so tiny, like the stubbiest baby carrot in the bag, the one you might not even eat because you were afraid it was actually a toe.

“Exactly.” Ruby scanned the room, looking over Harry’s head. “Oh, shit,” she said. Zoe, Elizabeth, and Harry all turned to follow her gaze. “Mum, stay here.” She hustled across the room, elbowing people out of her way.

Zoe craned her neck—the room was getting more and more crowded. “Who is she talking to, Harr?”

“It’s Dust,” Harry said, and immediately regretted it. He’d seen them kissing in front of school, and on their street after dark, standing in between parked cars. Dust was obviously not the kind of boy a girl would bring home to her parents, even if her parents were cool, like Ruby’s. There would be too many questions. Dust was the kind of guy, if life had been a sitcom, that Ruby’s moms would have tried to adopt, because it turned out he couldn’t read and had been living on a park bench since he was twelve. But in real life, Dust was just kind of scary, and Ruby should have known better. Harry had lots of good ideas about who she should go out with instead, and they were all him.

“Dust?” Elizabeth asked.

“Is that a name? Does he go to school here? How old is he?” Zoe said.

“What?” Harry said, waving his hand by his ear. It was getting loud in the school’s lobby, and he was sweating. It was better to pretend he hadn’t heard. Ruby was going to be so mad at him. Harry felt a deep, sudden longing for the indifference she’d shown him since the ninth grade.
The head of the high school came out and shouted for the seniors to get lined up, and the crowd began to disperse. Excited parents took photos of each other with their phones, and a few with real cameras. Teachers wore ties and shook hands. Elizabeth cupped Harry’s shoulder. “I’m sure it’s fine. Should we go get seats? Zo, you want me to save you and Jane spots?”

“Hang on,” Zoe said. Now that people were filing into the auditorium, it was a straight shot through the lobby to the door, where Ruby was having an argument with the boy, who looked like a skinhead. Were there still skinheads? He was taller than Ruby and was stooped over to talk to her, his shoulders rounding like an old man’s. Ruby looked furious, and the boy did, too. His face was pointy and sharp, and his chin jutted out toward her daughter’s sweet face. “Harry, spill it.”

Harry felt his face begin to burn. “Shit,” he said. “He’s her boyfriend.”

“Is his name Dust or Shit?” Elizabeth asked. “What’s the story?” Chloe and Paloma were inching across the room toward Ruby, teetering on their new heels like baby dinosaurs.

Harry opened his mouth to answer—he’d never been good at lying—but just then Ruby let out a little scream, and before he could think about what he was doing, Harry was running across the room. He threw his entire body at Dust, and the two of them hit the floor with a thud. Harry felt Dust roll away and then saw him scurry up and out the door like a hermit crab, on his hands and feet. Ruby stood over Harry with her own hands on her mouth. For a second she looked actually frightened, and the dangly white tassels of her dress shook a tiny bit, almost like she was dancing. It was the most beautiful dress Harry had ever seen. It wasn’t just a dress; it was a religion. It was an erupting volcano that would kill hundreds of pale-faced tourists, and Harry was ready for the lava to flow. Ruby regained her composure and looked around the room. A half circle had formed around them, and their mothers were cutting through it, mouths open like hungry guppies. Ruby turned toward the crowd, smiled, and did a pageant winner wave, her elbow gliding back and forth. Both Chloe and Paloma made mewling noises and reached for her with grasping fingers, but Ruby ignored them. “My hero,” she said archly to Harry, and extended her hand to help him up from the floor.

Meet the Author

Emma Straub is the New York Times‒bestselling author of The Vacationers, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, and the short story collection Other People We Married. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Elle, and Condé Nast Traveler, and she is a contributing writer for Rookie. Straub's work has been published in fifteen countries.

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Modern Lovers 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Loved it a lot! Fascinating and relatable characters, with interesting & familiar situations
Anonymous 2 days ago
Was not what I was expecting at all
GinaWy 1 days ago
At first, this book thoroughly confused me. Several people were introduced very quickly and it tok me a while to piece together their relationships to each other. I felt overwhelmed by so many points of view and stories happening so early in the book. Sadly, although the story eventually settled into a rhythm, and I was able to distinguish the characters from one another, I didn't like any of them very much. I also felt like not a great deal happened over the course of the book. It was very much a slice-of-life type story, than about any big event or particular character. The formatting in my copy was also a little awkward so I couldn't benefit from the 'extras' by way of fictional newspaper extracts, etc. I didn't finish the book with any particular positive or negative feelings towards it. I found it to be very average. I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Anonymous 4 months ago
A threesome