The Vacationers by Emma Straub
I can’t pinpoint when I first became fascinated with the idyllic Spanish island of Mallorca, but for years it has been on my bucket list. So I was thrilled to travel there vicariously, courtesy of Emma Straub’s novel The Vacationers.
“It was a proper Mediterranean morning, bright and warm, with a hint of olive oil in the air.” The Posts and their friends arrive at their summer rental for a two-week trip. Franny and Jim Post are celebrating their thirty-fifth anniversary. Their daughter Sylvia is heading off to college in the fall. Franny’s best friend Charles and his husband are anxiously awaiting the adoption agency’s phone call. Once Franny and Jim’s son Bobby and his girlfriend arrive, the vacation can officially begin.
Put that many people under one roof and tensions will rise. Straub makes this arrangement feel fresh with sharp, witty insights. In one such example, Franny is preparing an evening meal. Bobby’s girlfriend offers to help and Franny hands her a bowl.
“‘No, wait,’ she said and handed her a different one. Franny always wanted to carry the most impressive-looking dish, no matter that everyone knew she’d cooked everything on the table.”
These are some of my favorite parts of the book—moments to consider the characters’ flaws without being solemn or cranky. Franny has the opportunity to carry many impressive dishes to the table on this trip because she cooks when she is stressed. She and Jim are trying to keep under wraps that he has lost his prestigious job after an affair with the office intern (not much older than Sylvia). In fact, they all have news they’d rather not reveal. Sylvia doesn’t want to leave for college still a virgin. Bobby is in serious debt and refuses to tell his parents. Charles is conflicted about adopting a baby.
Straub weaves lighter moments into the fabric of the story too. Sylvia has a charming Spanish tutor who pronounces her name with a delicious See-ill-vee-ah. Franny decides to take up tennis at the local club even though she guesses that the last time she wore sneakers was in 1995 while working on her Buns of Steel.
And let’s not forget that we’re in paradise. “The sun wouldn’t set for a few more hours, but it had dipped behind the mountains, and the blue was darker now, as if a watercolor brush had swabbed over the trees and rocks and hillside.”
The Vacationers feels both light and substantial—a fun summer read that digs a little deeper with interesting characters and an irresistible setting.
All of us at GreatNewBooks are delighted to have a reading friend and guest this week: Jackie Cangro is a writer, editor, and workshop leader living in Brooklyn, NY. Her fiction was most recently published in Valparaiso Fiction Review and The Cortland Review.
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