In Emma Straub's The Vacationers, an extended family in crisis gathers for a two-week vacation on the sunny Mediterranean island of Mallorca. The summary seems to promise a juicy summer read about complicated relationships and family secrets. The novel, Straub's second, with its enticing cover of swimming pool blue, is indeed a light and quick book suitable for poolside reading. But The Vacationers ultimately disappoints with its generic plot and lack of depth.
The Story: The novel begins as the Post family is heading out on a two week sojourn to a beautiful rented home on idyllic Mallorca, but life for the Posts is not as wonderful as it would appear. The trip was booked months before Jim lost his job for sleeping with a much younger intern. Franny, the family matriarch, will decide whether or not to remain in her 35 year marriage with Jim at the end of the vacation. Joining this unhappy couple are their son Bobby, a Miami realtor who seems to have vastly exaggerated the level of his success, Bobby's girlfriend Carmen, a trainer at least a decade Bobby's senior, and Jim and Franny's daughter Sylvia, a morose 18-year-old fixated on losing her virginity before college. Oh, and don't forget Charles and Lawrence, a gay couple and close friends of Franny's, who are hoping to adopt a baby.
What I Thought: I had been anxious to read The Vacationers since its release in May; it has, of course, been popping up on many lists of the best summer books of 2014. I often enjoy novels about complicated extended families, so the premise sounded tantalizing. And of course, there is that gorgeous cover . . . I try not to let attractive cover art influence my reading decisions, but I suppose none of us are immune (and that image of a woman floating in crystal blue water . . . so peaceful, so soothing!).
There are certainly things to like about The Vacationers. The pacing is well done, and the characters are interesting and knowable, if not always likable. Straub's prose is clear and fluid, and the novel certainly kept me turning the pages to see how things worked out for the members of the Post family.
But I couldn't shake the feeling, as I read this novel, that there was something missing. The structure of the novel seemed unoriginal, and the plot lacked complexity. A light novel is fine at times, of course, but The Vacationers was, for me, too much fluff and not enough depth. Perhaps the problem is that I expected more. Others may not share my reactions. . . I'd be very interested to hear what friends and other book lovers think!
I would rate The Vacationers a 3 out of 5 stars.