Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Vacationers by Emma Straub


The Vacationers
by Emma Straub
Riverhead, 2014
304 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads):
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.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole

My thoughts:

Do you enjoy family dysfunction in an idyllic setting?
Do you like character driven novels?
Are you okay with books where not much actually happens?

Three "yes" answers and The Vacationers might just be your ideal summer read.

The cast:
- Jim and Franny Post, celebrating their 30th anniversary and trying to recover from a marital crisis
- daughter  Sylvia, recent high school graduate escaping NYC after a Facebook debacle
- their  floundering 28 year old floundering son and his 40 year old girlfriend (nobody likes her)
- Franny's best friend, Charles, and his husband, who doesn't really want to be there
- a handsome 20 year old tutor visiting daily to help Sylvia improve her Spanish

This all adds up to two weeks of tension (maybe closer to torture for some), a little growth, and a few very funny moments. I enjoyed Straub's sharp observations (both social and literary) - from family, love, and parenthood to Florida real estate and the Brontë sisters.

My only complaint, and it's relatively minor, is that I would have appreciated more of a sense of place. This Spanish paradise could have been used to greater advantage.

Overall though, I loved this book.... and these ideal reading conditions certainly didn't hurt.



A Few Quotes:
When people asked what kind of writer her mother was, Sylvia usually said that she was like Joan Didion, only with an appetite, or like Ruth Reichl, but with an attitude problem. She did not say this to her mother. 
Franny felt pleased with her choice of venue: Mallorca was less cliché than the South of France, and less overrun by Americans than Tuscany. Of course it had an overbuilt shoreline and its share of terrible tourist-infested restaurants, but they would avoid all that. Islands, being harder to get to, naturally separated some of the wheat from the chaff, which was the entire philosophy behind places like Nantucket, where children grew up feeling entitled to private beaches and loud pants.
The idea had been to be together, everyone nicely trapped, with card games and wine and all the fixings of satisfying summers at their fingertips. 
Gemma was one of Franny's least favorite humans on the planet for a number of reasons:  1. She was Charle's second-closest female friend. 2. She was tall and thin and blonde, three automatic strikes. 3. She'd been shipped off to boarding school outside Paris and spoke perfect French, which Franny found profoundly show-offy, like doing a triple axel at the Rockefeller Center skating rink.  
She'd always thought that siblings were pretty much the same people in differently shaped bodies, just shaken up slightly, so that the molecules rearranged themselves, but now she wasn't sure.  
Families were nothing more than hope cast out in a wide net, everyone wanting only the best.  
My rating:


25 comments:

  1. I do love family dysfunction but I also want something to happen in my books.

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    Replies
    1. Kathy - This may not be the bed choice for you...

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    2. I, too, felt like I was waiting and waiting for something to happen with this one...and I'm usually fine with books about people where not much happens. However, I feel there has to be brilliant writing or great characters to make up for the lack of action and I thought The Vacationer's writing and characters were only fine. Franny also completely grated on my nerves.

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  2. This sounds interesting. I love the quotes - especially that first one. I'm on the wait list for the kindle version of this from the library. Sounds like it will be a fun read. It's too bad Staub didn't use the location more. I expected it to feel all sun soaked and Spanish

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    1. Katherine - There's plenty of sun-soaked, but it could almost be anywhere. I wanted to see more of Spain!

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  3. I love character driven novels! But like Bermuda Onion, I like things to happen in the story as well. I will give this book a shot though, for the setting alone! :)

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    1. Quixotic Magpie - Almost all the "action" here is conversation ;-)

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  4. Thanks for your great review. I'm glad you loved this book. I've read mixed reviews on this one. I don't think I will read it.

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    1. Pat - This definitely is not for everyone, but I sure loved it!

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  5. Glad you enjoyed it! My reaction was much more mixed, as you know... I do agree that Straub included some great social and literary observations. And I agree with you, as well, that there could have been a stronger sense of place.... there was a lot of detail about the rental house, but I didn't feel like I learned much about Mallorca.

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    1. Leila - I'm sure my ideal reading setting contributed to my love of this novel, but I do wish I'd gotten more of a sense of Spain.

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  6. This one looks great! I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a copy when I run across one. I'm sure I will since I stalk Half-Price book stores.

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    1. Andi - Happy hunting... this was a great book!

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  7. I had this arc but gave it to my BFF to review for me, she enjoyed it. I read the first 50 pages and found it slow, but the characters interesting. My favorite thing is your reading spot!! So beautiful!!

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    1. Anita - I can see how you would think that... the set up was a little slow. It's interesting that I didn't especially like any of the characters, yet they all fascinated me.

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  8. You liked this more than me. I liked(the audio) well enough, but characters irked me to some degree.

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    1. Diane - None of the characters were especially likable, but I found them very interesting! I'm sure reading on the boat contributed to my enjoyment, too.

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  9. All families have dysfunctional episodes! I'd like this one.

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    1. Mystica - LOL, you've got that right ;-)

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  10. I've heard so many good things about this one - sounds like the perfect summer read. I'm off to see if the library has it!

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    1. Carrie - Hope the waiting list isn't too long!

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  11. The quotes are great, and sold me on this book. Very wry!

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    1. Debbie - Blogger reviews have been mixed, but I loved this one!

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  12. That reading location is beautiful! Just the ideal book for a vacation too! I don't believe I have read any of Emma Straub's books. (I always confuse her books with Emma Donoghue's.) But this one is on my wishlist.

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    1. Athira - This is the first I've read of Emma Straub, but I was impressed enough to want to seek out her other books. It's very easy for me to love any book I read on a boat ;-)

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