Modern Lovers Summary & Study Guide

Emma Straub
This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Modern Lovers.
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Modern Lovers Summary & Study Guide Description

Modern Lovers Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Modern Lovers by Emma Straub.

NOTE: This study guide refers to the 2016 Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House Hardcover Edition of Modern Lovers by Emma Straub.

Modern Lovers is a contemporary novel by Emma Straub. It follows the daily struggles of Zoe, Elizabeth, and their respective families. Elizabeth and Zoe have known each other since they attended Oberlin College, where they, along with Elizabeth’s now-husband Andrew and a young woman named Lydia Greenbaum formed a band called Kitty’s Mustache. It was during this time that Elizabeth penned the words to the song “Mistress of Myself” about women taking charge of their own lives. It was also during this time that Elizabeth and Andrew began dating, while Andrew slept with Lydia a number of times. Ultimately, Andrew moved in with Elizabeth, and Lydia left college, going on to become a famous singer. Not long after college, Lydia asked for the rights to perform “Mistress of Myself” as a singer in exchange for copyright and credit rights to Elizabeth and the others. Two years later, Lydia died of a drug overdose.

In present-day Brooklyn, Zoe and Elizabeth live within walking distance of each other. Zoe, a black lesbian, is married to a white Jew named Jane. The two have a daughter, eighteen year-old Ruby, who was conceived and carried by Zoe with sperm from Jane’s brother. Zoe and Jane own and operate a restaurant called Hyacinth, while they fret about Ruby being rejected from every college she has applied to. In reality, this is because Ruby intentionally sabotaged herself by writing essays about how much she did not want to attend college because she would rather experience the world. At the same time, Zoe and Jane’s marriage has hit the rocks as both seem distant from the other and unable to connect and be close. Elizabeth, white and straight, has been married to Andrew, also white and straight, for years, and the two have a seventeen-year-old son named Harry. Elizabeth works in real estate while Andrew is unemployed. Harry is in love with Ruby, and desperately wants to date her.

Elizabeth is contacted by Hollywood producer Naomi Vandenhoovel, who wants the rights to “Mistress of Myself” signed over so that a biopic can be made about Lydia. Elizabeth and Zoe quickly agree to this, but Andrew refuses. He claims this is because he does not want to see Lydia turned into glorified hero, when in reality, she was a jerk. Andrew actually opposes the movie because he is worried his cheating on Elizabeth will be revealed. In order to get things moving, and because she is frustrated with Andrew, Elizabeth forges his signature. Andrew, meanwhile, begins taking yoga classes at a new center called EVOLVEment, where Andrew befriends the owner, Dave. Elizabeth takes Andrew’s hanging out with people half his age as a sign of a marriage in trouble and as proof that he is on the verge of going through a midlife crisis.

Zoe and Jane begin seeing a therapist to try to make their marriage work, while Ruby and Harry begin dating. Slowly, Zoe and Jane are able to work through their differences and reconnect. Meanwhile, Ruby’s ex, out of spite, sets fire to Hyacinth. Ruby is able to call for help just in time to prevent structural damage. Harry comes to propose to Ruby, but Ruby turns him down so she can go and experience Mexico. The truth comes out both about the signature and Andrew’s past when Naomi comes to visit, leading Elizabeth and Andrew to both be angry with each other, and to feel guilty about the things they have done. Andrew and Elizabeth decide to see a therapist to ensure their marriage will continue to work. Newspaper clippings at the end of the novel reveal that Zoe and Jane reopen Hyacinth as a gourmet bakery instead, while Ruby opens an American pizza place in Mexico. Harry goes to be an English graduate student, and is preparing to write a novel. Andrew and Elizabeth work through things, with Andrew volunteering for Big Brother and Elizabeth coming to write new music for which she gains fame.

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