The slowing down of growing up + Emma Straub’s “Modern Lovers”

There was a time in life when I couldn’t imagine slowing down. Days when I ran or swam or biked from sunup to sundown. Downtime consisted of jumping on the trampoline or lying on the grass, staring at the clouds as they flew by.

And then there were the next-times: driving down the road with friends in tow, to pools and parties and games, to practices and work and meets. That feeling of freedom given to me with a set of keys, the thought of sitting at home worse than the thought of anything else.

Next was the time of classes and friends, of more freedom but less money. But it didn’t matter. Work and classes, and then a few dollars to go out with friends, to parties or the movies or, later, the clubs and bars. To think about sitting home was the same as sitting in a box. Boring and stale and unwanted.

And then work. The time of work. Waiting for hours and days to slowly click by, waiting for the weekend, and time with friends. A time to make the most of those hours free from work, free from the responsibility of a job and the adult world.

Then a significant other. And time spent together in quite together sometimes, but also spent with others, out in the world, having fun and relishing in your coupledom.

And then babies. And time out in the world meant mommy and me and doctors appointments. Parks and pools again, but not the same. Watching, always watching, and worrying. And there were always other moms — and some dads — to talk to, and we became an ever evolving group.

And there were nights out, snatched here and there. Sometimes there was a need to get a babysitter, sometimes there were nights when the kids could come along. Dinner and a movie, sometimes a concert, sometimes a game. Or fun at a friend’s house. There was often something fun to do, and it was easy to find a time to get out, because the kids were too young for their own activities. But it was creeping up on us, those times when staying home seemed better than any other alternative.

And just when I don’t want to be out, when staying home seems like the best alternative most nights, I’m watching the cycle begin again. Running and biking and swimming. Games and meets and concerts and plays. Summer in the sunshine, running from place to place with friends, always with friends.

But this time I’m the driver. I’m the mom, marveling at their energy. Remembering the days when I had that energy. Now I’m happy with the get-togethers with friends and nights out with my husband. It’s enough. I don’t mind if people are having fun without me (no FOMO here — I’m happy to miss out), because I’m firmly planted on my couch reading or watching something worthy of my free time (or sometimes not so worthy, but I watch any way).

I can remember the carefree days and the not so carefree days, always with tons of energy. I can look back at those days with wistful fondness, marveling at the fact that I never cared if I slowed down. And I can watch my daughter’s run with boundless vitality, amazed that these are my girls.

And, thanks to them, I can relive days of non-stop action. And be thankful for my comfy couch.

Okay, onto a book that was born today!!! Here’s Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers.

There was nothing about youth that was fair: the young hadn’t done anything to deserve it, and the old hadn’t done anything to drive it away.

–Emma Straub, Modern Love

The Premise

Elizabeth and Andrew live in a nice, quiet section of Brooklyn. Just down the street lives Zoe, married to Jane. Elizabeth, Andrew, and Zoe all went to college together, at Oberlin in Ohio, more than 25 years ago. Along with another college friend named Lydia, the four formed a band, Kitty’s Mustache, and had modest, local success that defined their lives.

Lydia left the band, heading on for bigger and better things, making a huge name for herself with one defining song, Mistress of Myself, written by Elizabeth (and a hit for Kitty’s Mustache). After Lydia’s success, she OD’d at the age of 27, moving her further into legendary status.

But this is not just a story about them: it’s also a story of their children. Elizabeth and Andrew have a son, Harry, who is almost a high school senior. Zoe and Jane have a daughter, Ruby, who just graduated high school and has no plan.

Harry and Ruby have known each other forever. Suddenly they find themselves in some sort of relationship, and it’s driving their parents CRAZY!!!!

But, back to adult land, Zoe and Jane’s marriage is on the rocks, but it’s always on the rocks. Elizabeth and Andrew seem rock solid, until a Hollywood studio hack gets in touch with Elizabeth, explaining that a biopic about Lydia is in the works, but the studio needs the rights to Mistress of Myself,  and permission from her, Zoe, and Andrew to use their likenesses in the movie.

Andrew refuses, for his own reasons. Elizabeth forges his name. Andrew gets angry (and a little panicky).

Meanwhile, Andrew (who comes from money, so he’s never really worked), is going though a sort of crisis. Trying to find what to do next (his life seems like a series of hobbies), he stumbles into a yoga commune (for want of a better word) that seems to need him. He begins taking yoga and getting massages and doing other therapies that help him get in touch with himself.

At the same time, in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, Elizabeth’s career as a realtor is going well. Zoe and Jane run a successful restaurant. Harry and Ruby attempt to survive as teens.

It’s all very idyllic and angst-y and real. A snapshot of marriage, and friendship, and a neighborhood, and family, Modern Lovers is a multi-generational look at life.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed Modern Lovers  immensely.

Told in shifting perspectives, Straub’s characters have depth and dimension. The view of college friends who stayed together, not just in touch but as neighbors interconnected in hundreds of ways everyday.

Funny and touching, Modern Lovers  is about the nuances of life. All that unease and excitement of youth along with the understanding of middle-age. It’s all about the passions that guide our lives, and knowing that those passions can guide and ground us in a million different ways.

I think my enjoyment of this book comes from understanding, as a (GASP!) middle-aged woman with daughters, young women on the verge of adulthood. This book rang true, getting to the heart of thoughts and feelings, and telling a great story at the same time, and reminding me of college in the 80’s, of punk and New Age music. There was such possibility in those years, and then, after, the real world, the world that makes you carve out time for your creativity and passion. And you find that you have to carve out that time, or go a little mad.

Any way, I digress. I blame it on Straub and her ability to get to the essence of humanity, peeling back everything and laying bare emotions and sentiment and passion, and doing it beautifully.

I give Modern Lovers five stars. I loved it.

Other Book Facts

Book:             Modern Lovers

Author:           Emma Straub

Publisher:      Riverhead Books

Release Date:  May 31st, 2016

Pages:               368


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