Book Review: Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Modern Lovers - Emma Straub (Random House, 2016)
Modern Lovers – Emma Straub (Random House, 2016)

If Modern Lovers was a finer novel, I probably wouldn’t have found its premise as annoying. If it were more thoughtful – offered a greater challenge to its readers, say – I wouldn’t be frustrated by its worldview.

For what it is Modern Lovers is not a bad book. It’s a fluff read – easy and light fare that doesn’t take long to get through. Probably, a lot of people will read it on vacation this summer. It’ll keep you going and it doesn’t ask for too much as you follow along.

Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe and Jane are two couples, living in the same Brooklyn neighbourhood, each with a child almost grown. Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have been friends for years, were once in a band together and wrote a hit song that their fourth band member made famous before her death at age twenty-seven. The others have settled into middle age and parenthood. But there are, of course, tensions under the surface and deeper problems here, several of them brought to the surface as they deal with their maturing children.

The story moves between character perspective’s, including Elizabeth and Andrew’s son, Harry, and Zoe and Jane’s daughter, Ruby. Although Andrew is a bit of a dud and his story line rather ridiculous, the characters are generally engaging, even if the story progresses about how you’d expect, including the ultimate conclusion. (And everything is neatly packaged up by the end; there aren’t a lot of loose threads in this world.)

At the centre of the drama is idea of aging, of change, of choosing one path and sticking to it, whether that’s a career or a marriage. The novel seems to suggest that choices made at a young age will inevitably  lead to dissatisfaction, if not outright happiness. And here’s where a stronger story could have provoked questions and thought in the reader. Unfortunately, the characters’ fates seem fairly cut and dry and are presented without much nuance and so I found myself annoyed at the expectation that I must agree in their inevitable unhappiness. When, honestly, it seemed like, with a little more effort from everyone, they all could have been much happier people.

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