Review and Commentary: “The Vacationers” by Emma Straub

VacationersFinished my first book on my (delusional) summer reading list, The Vacationers by Emma Straub. (Yay! One down, numerous to go!) Technically, it was on my “to read” list last summer as well, but you know how that goes.

In The Vacationers, the Posts, Franny and Jim, go off on a two-week vacation to a house in Mallorca, which is on an island off the coast of Spain in the Balearic Sea. They bring along Charles, Franny’s BFF, his husband Lawrence, the Posts’ soon-to-be-off-to-college daughter Sylvia, their Miami-transplant son Bobby, and his distasteful-to-them girlfriend Carmen.

You know how vacations are supposed to be a time to get away from the stress of real life, but never are? The desire to leave the problems behind can be felt from every member of this little troupe. But, of course, as in real life, no one in this group can manage to forget, not for long anyway. At one point, Straub writes, “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.” (Come on! How is this not a great beach read?) And for that moment, the magic of the pool is pure, but, unfortunately, this feeling is fleeting. The guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion resurfaces once that pool is gone, and rightfully so.

There are other parts in this novel where the vacation seems to do its job, allowing the characters, whose varying perspectives and insecurities Straub shows intermittently throughout the novel, some modicum of peace and relief from their problems. The mom, Franny, thinks at one time, “This is what [she] liked the most about being on vacation, the moments when no one was worried about what they should or should not be doing and just did exactly what was right.” Franny and Straub are absolutely correct, and I could sense the wonderful perfection of that moment from these characters.

Straub introduces all of the characters and their problems slowly, piecing them out. All are at a crossroads and have a question mark about something hovering over their future. Some are resolved, while others aren’t. But the point is the family–the ones you’re born into and the ones you create through friends and relationships.

The family dynamic is truly heart-warming, despite their issues (of which there are many). They know each other and accept the little quirks of each family member, despite how irritating those quirks can be at certain points. Yep, just like a real family! Forgiveness, acceptance, love, gratitude–all of these make up this novel. But beyond those, it’s also the little secrets that are kept from our family that show just how complicated a family relationship can be. At one point, Franny ponders this: “What did anyone know about anyone else, including the person they were married to? There were secret parts of every union, locked doors hidden behind dusty heavy drapes.”

But it’s not just the married couples that have secrets; it’s everyone in the book. I think at some point we all think about what we really know about those to whom we are closest and wonder what they might be hiding, and Straub has a talent to entertain us along with examining this question.

One of my favorite quotes is when the family members all recognize the perfection of a particular moment: “All four Posts held their breath simultaneously, each wishing for the moment to last. Family were nothing more than hope cast out in a wide net, everyone wanting only the best…. Franny and Jim and Bobby and Sylvia did their silent best, and just like that, for a moment, they were all aboard the same ship.” Like the pool moment, this perfection’s fleeting. But when you’re there, it’s wondrous. Much like this book! 🙂

Well, my friends, I hope you check out The Vacationers by Emma Straub.I also moved up Modern Lovers, her newest book out on May 31st, on my summer reading list because this book was so entertaining.

Hope all you all find that perfect first book of the summer! I know I did!

Ta-ta, my dears,

HMichaele

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3 thoughts on “Review and Commentary: “The Vacationers” by Emma Straub

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