The Vacationers (2014) by Emma Straub is another book I saw displayed at the library, and it caught my attention. I think I recognized the author from another reading list, and I decided to pick it up. There’s really not much to this book at first glance. The plot is that a family goes on vacation for two weeks in Spain. They’re well off and they have first world problems caused by their own angst and bad choices. What made this book interesting and fun to read was Straub’s great characterization. Everyone on that vacation is in some way annoying and frustrating, but they also feel like real, relatable people. I felt for the characters and really liked the book.
Franny and Jim have been married for thirty-five years, and they are about to head off to stay in a beautiful home in Mallorca, Spain for two weeks to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Their daughter, Syliva, just graduated from high school, is traveling with them. Meeting them at the house is one of Franny’s best friends, a gay man named Charlie and his husband Lawrence. Also meeting them in Spain are Franny and Jim’s son, Bobby, and his long suffering girlfriend, Carmen.
Complications ensue before they even leave their home. Franny has just discovered that Jim had an affair with a young intern at his work, forcing his early retirement. She doesn’t even know if she wants to stay married to him, let alone go on a romantic vacation. Charlie and Lawrence desperately want to adopt a child. Bobby isn’t doing well as a real estate mogul and needs to ask his parents for money. Carmen is looked down on by the entire family because she doesn’t fit in to what they expect of Bobby’s girlfriend.
Sylvia’s story was my favorite, probably because I can still relate most to coming-of-age stories. While in Spain, her mother has hired a Spanish tutor for her daughter, who happens to be a hunky, slightly older student that immediately captivates her attention. Sylvia is something of an awkward virgin, and I could definitely relate to her feelings and desires. I appreciated that Straub told her story in such a realistic way.
On the other hand, Bobby was the most annoying character. I wanted to smack him upside the head by the end of the book. What a selfish, narcissistic asshole. But his family still loves him, and he might be beginning to grow into a mature adult, maybe? It says something about this book when I often have a hard time remembering characters that not only do I remember all of these characters, but I still feel for them. Straub does a great job with the complex dynamics surrounding age-old relationships that are still constantly changing. I enjoyed this book more than I was expecting.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.