“Families were nothing more than hope cast out in a wide net, everyone wanting only the best.”
Book Title: The Vacationers
Author: Emma Straub
Pages: 208 digital pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Group
Date Published: May 29th, 2014
Date Read: July 7th, 2014
Format: ebook on my nook
Cover Love: Simple, escapist, very summer-y. Makes me want to go find a pool or Caribbean beach somewhere and take a swim!
Given Synopsis: “For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.”
What I’d Add: They make it all sound very high stakes, almost mystery-like. Is someone going to get murdered here? The answer is no, and I go into detail about all the characters at play here, but keep in mind there’s nothing too shocking here (and by “here,” I mean the world of the book).
It’s Sorta Like: If a reality TV show family went to Spain and spent most of the time arguing and being moody?
My Grade: C
Review: How many times have I seen this book on a “Perfect Summer Reads” list, or a “Books You Should Be Reading Right Now” section on a website or in a magazine? It’s release was perfectly timed, in that sense: write a book set in an exotic location, put lovable, dysfunctional characters in it, call it The Vacationers, and release it at the peak of America’s summer travel season. Brilliant. It’s a story about a broken/breaking family attempting to go on vacation together for people in real life to bring on their own family vacations with their own dysfunctional family members.
All that being said, I bought this and brought it on summer vacation with my family.
(Which is not to say they’re dysfunctional. My family’s awesome. Really).
Here are the dynamics: Franny’s husband, Tim, cheated on her with an intern. Franny’s best friend of 20+ years, Charles, is married to Lawrence (who is sometimes awkwardly abbreviated to “Lawr”). The two of them are trying to adopt a child, but there are flaws in their marriage as well: Lawrence is jealous of the bond Charles and Franny share. Bobby, a textbook man-child, is Franny and Tim’s son. He has been dating Carmen, a much older, more mature personal trainer. People find their age difference unsettling, even though Charles and Lawrence are a decade apart as well. Finally, Sylvia is the youngest, Franny and Tim’s daughter who participates in much eye rolling and is a little obsessed with wanting to lose her virginity before going off to college in the fall.
So these are our players. Franny cooks elaborate meals and eats her feelings. Sylvia laments her out of commission iPhone. And Tim reminisces about the intern’s long hair and young body. And they’re all stuck in a rented house in Spain together for two weeks.
If I were Jewish, I’d say oy vey convincingly.
Unfortunately, the story and characters never really got off the ground for me. These are problems we’ve seen in characters before. Especially those of the Dysfunctional Family Variety. The Cheating Patriarch. The Sullen/Disconnected Teenager. The Man Child. Tim, Sylvia, Bobby. They don’t do anything that shocks me or that goes against their archetypes. I root for a couple of them, but overall, no one’s likable. I don’t root for Bobby to get out of debt or even for Sylvia to find romance.
A climactic scene at a beach, where feelings are finally expressed and people yell and scream and even punch…it’s not exciting. Everyone acts like you’d expect them to. I didn’t get surprised or relieved. I just turned the page with a shrug.
I kept going because it’s not terribly written. Although there weren’t many shining bits of prose (the book ends in an airport, with a comparison of families and turbulence ahead – cheesy and predictable), Straub can write a scene. I particularly enjoyed the ability of hers to keep track of seven main characters. Even in once scene, she could dip into each of their thoughts and I was okay with it. I appreciated that everyone got a little time to show their true colors. Most of those colors were annoying and/or selfish, but you couldn’t blame the characters – it’s just their archetypes.
The ending is tied up too neatly. Everyone accomplishes something. Everyone will move on to bigger and better things. I’m not gutted by anything, or anyone in this story. I didn’t feel for them or care for their remaining issues. All in all, it’s a book you can mindlessly read while on vacation. Nothing awful will happen, and no one will die. But I would have preferred more spunk, more spark, more wit. Although I guess I’m a little jealous that they went to Spain…but I’m equally as frustrated that the house could have been any vacation home near a beach. Not enough setting, not enough character development and fulfillment here.