The 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 Married. The 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!
May 29, 2014
Disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.