Last summer I desperately wanted to read Emma Straub’s The Vacationers. I read about it on basically every blog and book community site. Every beach photo on Instagram seemed to feature this book and I felt like the only person that wasn’t reading it.
So when I saw it on the shelf at the library on my little pre-long-weekend-reading-material-run, it felt like it was meant to be.
I raced through the library on my lunch break and still had about a half hour to spare so I sat outside in the sun and started reading this book. Problematic only because I was already in the middle of another book, which meant that I was (once again) working on two books at one time. Apparently I never learn.
It didn’t end up being an issue for very long. I inhaled The Vacationers.
Franny and Jim Post are going through a crisis in their 35 year marriage. They decide to go through with their planned family vacation in Mallorca – maybe it will give them a chance to get some perspective or maybe it will be a last hurrah. Sylvia, their 18 year old daughter, has just graduated and is looking forward to a fresh start in college but is looking to use the holiday to finally lose her virginity. Son Bobby is coming from Florida with his older girlfriend (she’s 41 to his 28) Carmen who the family do not like. Bobby and Carmen have their own issues and Bobby has come on the trip to ask his parents a pretty big favour.
Charlie and Lawrence round out the group. Charlie is Franny’s best friend and Lawrence is his husband. They are in the process of adopting a baby and have come on the trip as a way of distracting themselves from all the process and all the stress that that places on their relationship.
When I peeked on Goodreads I was surprised to see that a lot of people didn’t have a lot of love to give this book. People thought it was boring! I think The Vacationers is that elusive book that feels like a beach read but still lets the reader feel like they are reading something bigger. What I mean is that, it’s a book about a vacation, about people eating their way through an area of Spain, spending time sitting by the pool, reading novels and sleeping late. It’s about the every day on vacation. But it’s also about the bigger things. Franny and Jim are at a crossroad in their marriage and neither is sure how to proceed; Sylvia is looking forward to reinventing herself at university; Charlie and Lawrence are about to take a massive step together and there is a lot of fear and uncertainty in that; and Bobby and Carmen – well Bobby and Carmen could probably have their own book.
It’s a short book (292 pages) and there are a number of characters so I’m not sure that there’s enough time to really connect with them. That might have been the issue for some readers. Once again, the characters are very human (see also: flawed). Franny doesn’t really ever make an effort to get to know Carmen despite the fact that Carmen is the only other person that seems to want to help in the kitchen at all; Jim has f*cked up in a really big way and has no idea what to do with his life now; Carmen met Bobby when he was a kid and showed him how to be an adult, which means that now that he’s sort of finally an adult their relationship has stalled while he figures out what he actually wants; and Sylvia is really up her own ass.
But reading about flawed people is the best kind of reading. And if I can do that kind of reading in such a non-taxing way at the beach instead of slogging through 700 pages that will leave me with the same feelings, so much the better.
This book is about the little moments that make up a big life, the choices that bring us to these moments and the people that we share them with. And it will probably make you think that your family is maybe not so bad after all.