Book Review – The Vacationers

The VacationersThe Vacationers by Emma Straub
My rating: (4 / 5)

“There was nothing in life harder or more important than agreeing every morning to stay the course, to go back to your forgotten self of so many years ago, and to make the same decision. Marriages, like ships, needed steering, and steady hands at the wheel.”

 

Ah, beautiful Mallorca, where rich families like the Posts can rent a house for a couple of weeks and bring along the whole family, plus the gay bestie and his partner. It’s an amazing destination and somewhere I’ve dreamed about visiting in the “If I had a million dollars…” kind of way. I picked up this book from the library to satisfy the “Book about a trip” slot for my 2016 reading challenge, and it once again made me so grateful for the challenge, because this book is a sweet little gem of a read.

I’m glad I didn’t read reviews here, before I chose it, or I might have passed it by! While this book was a darling of the critics, other reviewers didn’t seem to like it at all, mostly, it seemed because they didn’t find the characters relatable at all. And it’s true, they are a very privileged family with very “first world” problems (for the most part). But they are also human, and flawed, and it’s a great illustration of how no matter how much money you have, your life can still suck.

Many people don’t like when rich people whine about their problems, and there is some especially serious rich-kid whine action going on in this book, but honestly? To me it shows you just how little more money can solve your problems. And this family has plenty.

Matriarch of the clan, Franny, is trying to decide whether or not her 35-year marriage is salvagable after her husband Jim’s infidelity.

 

“the major accomplishment of her life was producing two children who seemed to like each other even when no one else was looking,”

 

Her gay best friend Charles and his partner Lawrence are struggling with whether or not they will be chosen to adopt a child.

 

“Kids are forever, even if love isn’t, right?”

 

Daughter Sylvia has just graduated high school and is dealing with social media exposure drama and the question of whether she’ll be able to reach a goal on her college bucket list – losing her virginity before the fall season starts.

 

“She had the wild look of someone who hadn’t slept in twenty-four hours, with purplish semicircles underneath both her eyes. Being eighteen was like being made out of rubber and cocaine.”

 

Son … Dang, the older son must be the most forgettable character because I already can’t remember his name… the older son is lost in debt, and his poor girlfriend Carmen (the character that I related to the most, incidentally) whom everyone hates.

Carmen… the poor woman. She’s not who Franny and Jim envisioned for their son. She’s older than him. She comes from a middle class background and works as a personal trainer, which apparently they all consider “less-than”. She has tried everything she possibly can over the decade she’s been together with their son – during which their son repeatedly and in many different ways did everything he could to screw up his life – to get them to like her, and they just don’t. This is the story of my life (kind of, the trying to please in-laws for years only to have them judge and hate you because you aren’t what they wanted for their “darling”). I was so proud of her when she finally stood up for herself that I actually cheered. All she wanted was to be accepted by the family and loved by her partner and she spent her time dreaming about being his bride. So much so that accidentally coming across a wedding on Mallorca became a major turning point in her life.

 

“It didn’t matter that the bride’s dress was too tight or hadn’t come from Vera Wang—she was happy. She wanted to be with this man for the rest of her life, and he felt just the same way. They had chosen to make the leap and, having leapt, were delighted to find that the world was even more beautiful than they’d hoped.”

 

I would explain more about the plot, but there isn’t much of one. This book is just about going on vacation somewhere beautiful with a family, and their own close proximity over the course of the trip causing all kinds of secrets to come to light and emotions to surface. There are lovely descriptive sections of text, though not so many as to be overwhelming. Many of these had to do with food in Spain, which left me really, really hungry while reading. This led to a lot of snacking. Be forewarned.

I’ve never personally been on a vacation like this. Not one with so many people, and not one where you just rent a place out-of-the-way and hang out for two weeks. All the vacations I’ve ever been on have been trips where you DO things all the time. My husband jokes that he’s always glad when our vacations are over so he can go back to work and get some rest. But this makes me want to try this some time – a trip where you just get to “be” somewhere beautiful, and sit on the beach or at the pool to read.

But maybe not with a whole family. That is apparently a huge recipe for trouble.

 

“Families were nothing more than hope cast out in a wide net, everyone wanting only the best.”

 

This novel is very character driven. If you prefer plot-driven novels you will not like this at all. It’s slow and languorous and beachy and sad. It’s a nice book. It’s a quick read. I wouldn’t recommend it for a beach/vacation read – if you’re already there this is just going to be repetitive. But it’s awesome for right now, mid-winter, when everything is gray and you need a bit of sunshine in your life.

Who wants to rent a house in Mallorca with me??

 

“A good swimming pool could do that—make the rest of the world seem impossibly insignificant, as far away as the surface of the moon.”

 

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