Middle-aged parents and hormone-addled teenagers all have some growing up to do—entertainingly—in the course of one hot Brooklyn summer.
Straub’s last novel, The Vacationers (2014), took place on Mallorca and was a perfect vacation between two covers. Her new book is set in a grittier locale, but in Straub’s fond gaze, it too feels like an enchanted land out of a Shakespearan comedy: “Ditmas Park was great in the summertime. The sycamores and oaks were full and wide, leaving big pools of shade along the sidewalks. Families were on their porches…Neighbors waved.” She takes us inside two of the area’s rambling yet run-down Victorian houses and introduces their owners: Elizabeth, a real estate agent, and Andrew, whose family trust has allowed him to get to his late 40s without much of a career, and their sweet son, Harry; and Zoe and Jane, who own a busy restaurant and live with their daughter, Ruby, who describes herself as having a “bad attitude.” Years ago, Elizabeth, Andrew, and Zoe were in a band together at Oberlin, which would have been completely forgotten except that their fourth band mate, Lydia, had a smash hit as a solo artist with one of Elizabeth’s songs, “Mistress of Myself,” before dying of an overdose. Now Hollywood has come calling, wanting to make a movie about Lydia, but for some reason Andrew doesn’t want to sell their rights to the song. Meanwhile, Zoe thinks she wants a divorce, Harry and Ruby start sleeping together when they’re supposed to be studying for the SAT, Andrew is hanging out at a creepy yoga studio, and Elizabeth frets that their idyllic life might be changing and tries to hold them all together. In chapters whose points of view rotate among the players, Straub pays close and loving attention to what foods her characters eat, what they have hanging on their walls, where their money comes from and goes, and the subtle fluctuations of their varying relationships. She’s a precise and observant writer whose supple prose carries the story along without a snag.
Straub’s characters are a quirky and interesting bunch, well aware of their own good fortune, and it’s a pleasure spending time with them in leafy Ditmas Park.