Tag Archives: summer

Two Weeks with New Yorkers in Mallorca: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

cover imageThe Vacationers by Emma Straub is the perfect beach read for people who like their escapist reading to take them to a villa in Mallorca on a family vacation with two generations of family, along with a long-time family friend, all suffering individually and/or as couples from first-world problems. Sun, sexy Europeans, Scrabble, and great meals are all included. Emma Straub, you can take me on vacation again anytime!

Inveterate New Yorkers Jim and Franny Post, a married couple on the verge of divorce, are taking one last summer vacation together with Sylvia – their teenage daughter who will head off to college in the fall – and Bobby – their older son – Bobby’s girlfriend, Carmen (the only outsider, i.e. non-New Yorker), and Franny’s old friend Charles and his boyfriend (now husband), Lawrence – who are both secretly waiting to hear about adopting a child.

I dogeared many pages of my advance reading copy to make note of sharp observations or cleverly worded descriptions that made me laugh, but I’ll just share just a couple of passages to give you a feel for the author’s style. This passage (a peek into Jim’s thoughts) is from just after they’ve arrived at the gorgeous two-story house on sunny, palatial grounds, and Jim sees Franny has settled in to sunbathe by the pool, looking relaxed:

“To say that Franny had been uptight in the preceding month would be too delicate, too demure. She had been ruling the Post house with an iron sphincter. Though the trip had been meticulously planned in February, months before Jim’s job at the magazine had slid out from under him, the timing was such that Fran could be counted on to have at least one red-faced scream per day. The zipper on the suitcase was broken, Bobby and Carmen’s flights (booked on Post frequent-flier points) were costing them hundreds of dollars in fees because they had to shift the flights back a day. Jim was always in the way and in the wrong. Franny was expert in showing the public her good face, and once Charles arrived, it would be nothing but petting and cooing, but when she and Jim were alone, Franny could be a demon. Jim was grateful that, at least for the time being, Franny’s horns seemed to have vanished back inside her skull.”

And this one, from the middle of the book, setting a scene where we find out what Carmen, Bobby’s girlfriend, is thinking:

“The chest in the living room had been well stocked with board games: Monopoly and Risk, Snakes and Ladders. Charles had made a brief but impassioned speech in favor of a game of charades but was quickly shot down. They decided on Scrabble, and Lawrence was winning, being the best at math, which everyone knew was all it took to truly succeed. He knew all the two-letter words, the QI and the ZA, and played them without apology, even when it made the board so dense that it was difficult for anyone else to take a turn. Bobby, Sylvia, and Charles all stared hard at their letters, as if simple attention alone would improve their odds.”

I enjoyed the family tensions, understated drama, and the witty humor of The Vacationers so much, I’m sorry that I haven’t already read the author’s two earlier books: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures and Other People We MarriedThe Vacationers has blurbs on the back cover from Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette), Maggie Shipstead (Seating Arrangements), and Elizabeth Gilbert (The Signature of All Things). It reminded me a bit of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter; so if you liked that, you might like this one too.

Add The Vacationers to your beach bag or suitcase for your summer vacation reading, if you haven’t already read it!

The Vacationers
Straub, Emma
Riverhead Books
May 29, 2014
978-1-59463157-3
304 pp.
$26.95, hard.

Disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

Other opinions (all good to excellent):
Bibliophile by the Sea
Lakeside Musing

nomadreader

Summer’s End: Wish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan

cover image of Wish You Were HereWish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan is an elegiac novel about the passing of a family’s era, when an extended family gathers at their aging Lake Chautauqua house for a vacation week at the end of the summer, preparing the house to be sold.

Although the absence of the patriarch, Henry Maxwell, is keenly felt by everyone from the members of his own generation – his sister Arlene and his wife Emily, his adult children – Kenneth, there with his wife Lise, and Meg, recently divorced, down to the four grandchildren – two older girl cousins and two younger boy cousins – Henry is only present in the memories sparked by his fishing gear and other stuff in the house and garage and in all of the old, familiar places in the lakeside village in western New York, where he and Arlene had summered since they themselves were children.

The whole novel takes place over the course of the week leading up to Labor Day, but the place triggers so many memories in the Maxwell adults that we find out quite a bit about how their pasts. The week goes by much too quickly for them, despite the initial rainy weather. On the other hand, the vacation seems to Lise, the only in-law, to stretch on endlessly and the children, who don’t have as long of a shared past, have plenty of time to dream their own dreams of the future and develop their own alliances, not old enough to mourn the passing of an era.

So many themes run through the novel that it would be impossible to list them all, but it was interesting to read Wish You Were Here at the same time as I listened to Stewart O’Nan’s later novel, Songs for the Missing, because I noticed a shared theme. In Wish You Were Here, a small subplot is the ongoing mystery of what happened to a local girl who vanished without a trace from her job as a convenience store clerk; in Songs for the Missing, a teen girl disappears in a similar fashion right at the beginning of the story. In Wish You Were Here, the Maxwells’ only connection to the missing girl was that Kenneth, along with another gas-pumping customer, entered the store together to pay for gas and found it empty, neither one thinking much of it at the time. Each Maxwell family member reacts differently to the story as it hits the news,  but in Songs for the Missing the author is able to delve far more deeply into how people might respond to a potentially tragic event like this, especially people who knew and loved the missing girl.

Wish You Were Here is slower paced and longer than Maine by Courtney Sullivan, but both revolve around three generations sharing a summer house, so if you liked one you might like the other. Wish You Were Here reminded me of what I remember Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs – the conflicts between art and family life (Kenneth is a photographer trying to make it as an artist) and nostalgic indulgence vs. Yankee practicality (Emily is selling the house; the rest of the family doesn’t want it sold but can’t afford to buy it.)

After Wish You Were Here came out in 2002, Stewart O’Nan wrote a follow-up novel, Emily Alone, that was published in 2011 and  picks up the story of the Maxwell family in 2007, seven years after their final week at Lake Chautauqua. I listened to Emily Alone on audio last year, not realizing the characters were from a previous book, so the story stands on its own fine.

Wish You Were Here
O’Nan, Stewart
Grove Press, 2002978-0802117151, hardcover
978-0-8021-3989-4, paperback

Disclosure: I purchased this copy used, probably from a library book sale.

TBR Pile Challenge badgeYay! This review counts towards my TBR Pile Challenge goal of reading 12 specific books from my Roof Beam Reader-certified To Be Read list.

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Beach Books and Summer Reading

>Beach books should be easy to put down on the blanket but absorbing enough to get right back into when you pick it up again. Also, they should NOT be depressing. 
Vogue blogger Megan O’Grady recommends the season’s hottest new beach books here. Her list includes The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek and The Same River Twice by Ted Moone. One of my own favorite authors for beach chair reading is Penny Vincenzi. Her most recent novel is The Best of Times
In its list of 10 Unforgettable Beach Reads, Reader’s Digest recommends older titles that might be found on the library shelf instead of the holds list. Most – such as Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret? and Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed – look like they’ll appeal more to women, but guys might try Gutted: Down to the Studs in My House, My Marriage, My Entire Life by Lawrence LaRose, which Reader’s Digest describes as the “touching, honest, and often hilarious true story of one couple’s struggle to build their dream home and dream life together.”
Summer reading lists tend to be more substantial than beach book recommendations — assuming that readers have more time to devote to reading in the summer and want to tackle some big titles, maybe some of the books that everyone’s been talking about, like Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
For a Latina take on summer reading, check out some of the suggestions from Latina Magazine in its list of Top 10 Latina Summer Beach Reads. Isabel Allende’s new historical novel about Haiti’s slave rebellion, Island Beneath the Sea, shows up here, as well as on other lists.
NPR has compiled a list of summer reads, Best Of The Bestsellers: Wisdom Of The Crowds, from the purchase habits of NPR listeners. For more, check out NPR’s Audience Picks: 100 Best Beach Books Ever from last summer’s public radio listeners’ recommendations.
Another list that’s heavy on the literary, light on fluff, is Oprah’s 2010 Summer Reading List. It includes The Passage by Justin Cronin, which has been getting a lot of buzz in a lot of places, including on BookPage‘s The Book Case blog, as this year’s big summer book. (Literally. It’s 766 pages long.)
Whether at the beach, in the backyard, or sitting inside with the air conditioner, we hope you have lots of time for reading and visiting the library this summer.