By: Emma Straub
Narrator: Jen Tullock
Penguin Random House Audio/Imprint: Penguin Audio
Genre: Fiction – Family Life
Release Date: May 31, 2016
Audiobook provided by publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
From the New York Times‒bestselling author of 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. – See more at: http://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/318840/modern-lovers/#sthash.aTom1uhg.dpuf
This is a story about dissatisfaction and self-indulgence in middle age; I guess we call that a “mid-life crisis.” It is also about having a secret. In a sense it is a coming of age story wherein the age is not new-adulthood but middle-agedness (see “mid-life crisis” above). There are new adults who also come of age in the story as well. As the blurb tells us it is truly about becoming adults. Does growing up always mean giving up what was important to us when we were younger?
There are two couples in this book: one lesbian couple and one straight couple. Each couple has a child. Harry the good kid, from the hetero-parental family, is stifled by his goodness until his innate intelligence shows him he needs to act up a little more. The other kid, Ruby, is the free spirit in the homo-parental* family; her lack of boundaries leads her to some less than safe places. The association in her final summer at home, with the other family, leads her to a place where she can grow up.
The two characters with big secrets are married to each other and their secrets hold them both back and apart from each other. For Andrew, it could be that like many, he grew up disliking his parents motivations and lifestyle. But, in avoiding becoming like them has only succeeded in not becoming anything else. The two characters who grew up with money are the least driven. I think the success, focus and drive of their spouses annoys them both. For Elizabeth her secret is that her love for her best friend, Zoe, may cross into a sexual romantic love that holds her back from true intimacy with her husband.
It was an interesting read, alternating between the characters alone and together. It starts off, though, with a group of women who are meeting for a bookclub, but who then we hardly see again. Really there are six characters in this book.
The characters who I felt were the most emotionally honest were the children who can see how messed up their parents are and who don’t really care about whether their parents are happy – who never even wonder if they are.
The story is told well except for wandering a little, like the lives of the characters. But only Andrew truly has the freedom meander, because of the parents he so dislikes. It is also told in short bits that are perfect for summer listening.
The narrator is great with a cultured voice that can give nuanced performance of the varied characters without distracting from the narrative.
I think the book is a great summer read or listen. I enjoyed the authors take on people closer to my age than we often see; and it defines us as still relevant.
I highly recommend it for focusing on what it means to “come of age” later in life. Instead of just talking about so and so having a “mid-life” crisis it looks more at the why and how of the concept.
*I just made up this word.