Book Review – The Vacationers by Emma Straub
December 26, 2014
An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.
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.
Emma Straub’s The Vacationers has been showing up on several “Best of 2014” lists so it seemed fitting that I make it a vacation read here at the end of the year. Although this wasn’t a bad read, I’m not exactly sure why it’s making so many “Best of” lists. Overall, The Vacationers is a fair book that would make a decent beach read, but it’s not one that will stick with you forever.
I did enjoy that the book was set in Mallorca, a unique location that I had not yet encountered in a novel. However, Straub could have done a better job of making the setting more of a “character” in the novel. With such an original locale, I felt like it would have been easy to make it more prominent in the book than it was.
Straub develops an ensemble of characters that includes someone almost every reader could identify with. She tackles issues that many of us encounter at some points in our lives, including infidelity, adopting children, financial issues, as well as dating and sex. With so many story lines, however, they are not quite as strongly developed as they would be if Straub had chosen to eliminate a couple of them.
Feel free to pick this one up on your next trip, but don’t set your sights so high as to think it will be the best book you read this year!
What did you think of The Vacationers? What other books have you read that you think are not worth the hype they generated?