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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Modern Lovers: A Novel

Oh, Emma Straub, how I love thee. You may remember by adoration of The Vacationers, and I am dying to read Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures and her short story collection. I am, it's fair to say, an Emma Straub devotee. Here is her latest, Modern Lovers.

Elizabeth and Zoe are best friends, and thankfully they live a few doors down from each other. They've been best friends since college when they were in a band, Kitty's Mustache, with Elizabeth's now-husband Andrew and the soon to be famous Lydia, singer of "Mistress of Myself." Now, 25 years later, Zoe is married to Jane and their daughter Ruby is a massive fuck up, Elizabeth and Andrew have the perfect son Harry, and a big Hollywood producer wants to make a movie of their alliance due to Lydia's infamous early death. Unfortunately, 25 years later, each couple is struggling with their own issues of growing together and apart, and all the while Harry and Ruby strike up a romance. It's a complicated web that makes up "adulthood."

This was such a lovely, indulgent book for my Labor Day weekend. I was able to just get lost in it for a few days and not have to even look up from the pages. I lived in the world of Zoe and Jane and Elizabeth and Andrew; I rooted for Ruby and Harry; and I wanted to eat at the Hyacinth, Zoe and Jane's restaurant. I loved the complicated relationships, not only because the mirror real life, but because Straub has a way of creating characters and complicated relationships that make you want to fight your way out of them. Not only are the characters compelling, but their relationships are as well. She writes with such a human voice that if I hadn't had the pleasure of hearing her talk about her last book, I would wonder if she had multiple personalities. Her characters are so real, so much to the point where I feel like if I went to Ditmas Park myself today I could easily go stand in front of Zoe and Jane's house.

Another thing that Straub does particularly well is make neighborhoods come alive as a character in her stories. I prefer to not live as far out from Manhattan as the main characters do, but after reading this I now want to purchase a house in Ditmas Park. I want to go eat at the Hyacinth, and I want to attend the yoga studio that Andrew helps fund. She makes these neighborhoods come alive in ways that so few other writers can do (even though so many try!), and the result is amazing.

The relationship between Ruby and Harry was a little bittersweet. It's easy to think back on those years of the young love, those summers that made you feel like you were high as a kite and floating on a cloud of love. It's a young love, and a difficult love looking back, and you think it will never end but inevitably it will. I have to say, on the other side of life, I much prefer the quiet low level intensity of my adult relationship, which Straub so perfectly describes through Elizabeth, but I know that deep and intense love of being a teenager. I absolutely related to Elizabeth and Andrew and their long-term marriage, and the passages where the author is describing the difference in the relationships of the two best friends hit the nail on the head. This was quite an indulgent story of a summer in the lives of best friends and neighbors, and I loved every second of it. It's a story of a complicated web of relationships and the events that will either make or break them.

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