Tag Archives: emma straub

MODERN LOVERS by Emma Straub

modern-lovers-review-ewOne of the hot books this past summer was Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. It’s about a group of college friends who, twenty years later, live near each other on the same street in Brooklyn. Andrew and Elizabeth are married with a son, Harry, who is in high school. Zoe is married to Jane and they have a daughter, Ruby, who has just graduated from the same high school. Andrew, Elizabeth and Zoe were bandmates in college, but have now settled into more middle age pursuits – owning a restaurant, real estate, parenting, etc. When an movie agent comes calling, hoping to get them to sign over their “life rights” so that a biopic can be made about the fourth (now dead) member of the band, the three come to face the fact that their kids are now almost the age they were when they met, and that they are no longer the same people they once were. Is what they have enough? Are they happy? Or should they be making some dramatic changes?

Typical middle age angst.

Here’s what I liked about Modern Lovers: clean, descriptive writing full of realistic details and observations (typical of Straub’s books); a mildly suspenseful plot that makes you want to keep reading (but not too fast); some humorous sendups of Brooklyn stereotypes, like the cult-like people at Andrew’s yoga studio and the private school kids; and Straub’s exploration of middle age.

Here’s what I didn’t like as much: the whininess of the main characters (except Harry, who I liked); the #firstworldproblems that they can’t stop complaining about; their preciousness (Ruby! Oy); and did I mention the whininess? It’s hard to get really invested in these people, with their ennui and the mild discontent that taints their whole existence. I don’t mind books about middle age angst, but I’d like for them to have something to really angst over.

I am not sure why Modern Lovers got all the fanfare and attention that it did. I liked it enough, but I certainly didn’t love it.

I listened to Modern Lovers on audio, and I thought the gentle but precise narration by Jen Tullock was excellent. She developed distinct accents for the different characters that conveyed their personalities well. (I especially liked her voice for Dave, the scammy yogi.) I recommend the audio if you want to give Modern Lovers a try.

THE VACATIONERS by Emma Straub


Vacation read #1 was, appropriately, The Vacationers by Emma Straub. This book has been getting all sorts of buzz and attention this summer, and when I spotted it in the library without a waiting list, I grabbed it while I could.

The Vacationers is about the Post family of Manhattan – mom Franny, a food critic; dad Jim, a magazine editor; son Bobby, a failing realtor in Miami; and daughter Sylvia, a recent high school graduate en route to Brown in the fall. The family is in crisis – Jim has been let go from his job because of an affair with a young editorial assistant, and Franny, needless to say, is furious with him. She views their upcoming two-week vacation in Mallorca as the time to decide whether to let him stay or kick him out. Sylvia is desperate to get to college, where she can get away from her small class of private school friends and reinvent herself. And Bobby, who is in a dead-end relationship with Carmen, a personal trainer who is 10 years older than he is, must tell his parents that he is in serious debt and needs their help.

Along for the ride are Franny’s best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence, who are awaiting news from an adoption agency about a baby they want to adopt.

Straub puts these seven characters in a beautiful home in Mallorca and lets them stew in their own Mediterranean juices. Simmering tensions between Jim/Franny and Bobby/Carmen eventually reach their apex and conclusions, while the others deal with their own internal issues – guilt, shame, lust, jealousy. Straub knows her characters really well, and she expertly shifts from perspective to perspective, giving extremely realistic glimpses into what they are thinking and feeling. There are lots of little details along the way that paint a vivid picture of this vacation home, making the reader feel like an invisible eighth character in the room. Straub also really understands relationships, both romantic and filial, and nails the little interactions that happen over and over between two people.

The ending is pat, too tidy for the messiness of the chapters that preceded it. But it only takes away a little from an otherwise affecting, well-told story of a family testing its points of vulnerability and emerging on the other side.