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 (instead of perennially middle-aged folks) and doused with a Lorrie Moore-like sense of the absurdities of contemporary life ... 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.
Like ABC’s Modern Family, 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 plot of Emma Straub's new novel, Modern Lovers, is one near-miss after another. A couple almost break up. A business almost burns down. A man almost loses a fortune to a cult. A naive boy walks into a party of tough strangers and — well, something almost happens, but then it doesn't. Chapters of Modern Lovers end on cliffhangers that, later, turn out to be nothing. The book's momentum starts and stops, gasps followed by shrugs ... a pleasant enough read, and it is not without wisdom and a little drama. But mostly it is, itself, a near-miss.
Perhaps these Brooklyn couples in their postmodern Peyton Place — one with nutritional yeast and cosmic trance nights and talk of ayahuasca retreats — are more sensitive than, say, most of the married couples in Tolstoy, Updike, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence or Jackie Collins. Or even, I would venture to say, Dr. Seuss. Modern Lovers hurries to tie up its loose ends, and the interwoven climaxes seem sludgy. The final chapter employs a lazy literary device, a series of announcements (a notice in the New York Times weddings section, trivia from one character’s IMDB page, a précis of a thesis proposal, postings from foodie websites) that would seem more at home in the closing credits of Animal House. (Bluto becomes a United States senator!) But up until then, Modern Lovers is a wise, sophisticated romp through the pampered middle-aged neuroses of urban softies.
As in the best ensemble novels, much of the pleasure of Modern Lovers comes from observing its affecting, palpable characters interact. Straub has so intricately and cleverly connected them that when she moves one, the whole chessboard reconfigures ... There is much to praise, too, in Straub’s renderings of twee Brooklyn, particularly a cultish meditation-and-kombucha commune that springs up, replete with lissome half-naked yogists and a toothy guru, to seduce Andrew. And Straub is shrewd about high school social dynamics.
Straub recounts her characters’ yearnings with love and empathy, which makes the book’s wit — and Modern Lovers is screamingly funny— glow with warmth ... Though Straub’s writing is subtle and nimble and brimming with intelligence, on rare occasions the novel’s plot twists can feel inauthentic. Since the most quotidian moments are so compelling, this generally effortless novel can feel stuttering and contrived when she veers into sitcom high jinks.
The characters in Modern Lovers are often 'not sure' about their emotions, or where they stand on everything ranging from their sexuality to their marriages, which has the effect of making them more wearisome than sympathetic, and the adult characters aren’t as fully realised as the teenagers ... This is a pacy, enjoyable read, but is ultimately undermined by Straub’s attempt to include each and every signifier of life in the Brooklyn of the modern imagination.
The characters are all people we all wish we could be—wealthy, successful, comfortable. This comfort is a trick. Straub seduces the reader into this world in order to rip it apart and expose its psychological truths ... Modern Lovers grapples with a truth of middle age: balancing our relationships can be a perilous task. Domestic bliss can only provide so much satisfaction, and it is unlikely that those domestic relationships can fulfill every emotional need. Friendship has its own limits. Modern Lovers skillfully captures the complexities of relationships often taken for granted, and Straub reminds us that happiness together is better than happiness alone.
With all the writers who live in Brooklyn, we read a lot of books set in its neighborhoods. The bar is high, the field is crowded, and the demographic represented in Modern Lovers gets a lot of coverage. Emma Straub’s particular take is wry without being snarky, and smart without being affected. With cleverness and warmth to spare, her aim is to entertain, and she breezily succeeds.
Various discoveries, betrayals, and romantic complications follow, though nothing in Modern’s meandering plot moves with any particular urgency. Instead, 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.
While Modern Lovers” plot starts off promising, it quickly stumbles and loses its way, much like its unhappy, self-centered and mostly unlikable characters who react with melodrama in the face of life’s minor problems ... Marketed as a breezy summer beach read for the Generation X demographic, Modern Lovers clearly fits that bill ... However, Modern Lovers doesn’t break new ground while exploring this familiar terrain of middle-aged induced angst. Despite all their advantages, Ms. Straub’s characters still fall prey to wistful nostalgia and the manipulative influence of others while overlooking their literal and figurative good fortune.