Literature right now is looking at families and, just lately a surprising number of these families live in New York City. Perhaps it is because diversity has long been tolerated by sophisticated New Yorkers. Perhaps it is the desire, held in abeyance by many of us, to live in New York City for at least a while. Maybe it is because, somehow, raising a family in New York City, seems both better than raising a family elsewhere because of the pace of the city and all the cultural options that families can sample, and more problematic because it denies children more bucolic pleasures. Unless you have money it is probably quite difficult to raise a family in this particular American city. However, when you are the author of a book your fictional family can be as rich as you like and thus the whole NYC fantasy can play out. Despite the stimulating and expensive surroundings it is still possible to make points about modern life that resonate universally, so an author can have their cake and eat it too.
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub is just such a novel. We meet three people who met each other in college. They were in a band together and were quite popular at local college parties and bars. They wore gothic attire and managed to sound better than they actually were. A fourth band member, Lydia, who became very famous, died in an OD at the age of 27. Two band members, Elizabeth and Andrew married. Elizabeth is a real estate agent, Andrew, who inherited money, is a man who drifts from interest to interest. They have a son Harry, who is studying for his SAT’s. Zoe, the other band member, apparently so beautiful and lively that people are always falling in love with her, is married to Jane, a chef with her own successful restaurant. They all once shared a house in the Ditmas Park section of Brooklyn. Zoe and Jane have a daughter, Ruby, also preparing for her SAT’s. The college band is being resurrected in memory as a result of a decision that must be made.
This is a slice of life novel, although not in a strict sense since we do hear the backstory. Each couple is at a point of crisis in their relationship. Each couple must decide whether to remain together or to separate. Harry and Rudy, ditching their SAT Prep course also have things to work out both together and separately. Does it make any difference that one couple is made up of a man and woman and the other couple is made up of two women? That’s what is refreshing about this novel. We see two marriages and two families, but the difficulties and challenges each couple faces could occur in any relationship. This is lighter than you would think based on the subject matter, perhaps even a bit superficial, and perhaps the ending is a bit abrupt with too little detail about the outcomes for each character, but this is still an enjoyable book with engaging characters.