Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Book Review: "The Vacationers" by Emma Straub

Other than holidays and weddings, there's nothing quite like a vacation with family and friends to hit all the right buttons on the dysfunction scale. No matter how idyllic, relaxing, and/or fun the plans seem like they'll be, some type of crisis, tension, or anguish (if not all three) is sure to arise, and turn everything at least slightly topsy-turvy.

And so it goes in Emma Straub's newest novel, the fun, breezy, The Vacationers. New Yorkers Franny and Jim Post have planned a two-week vacation to the Spanish island of Mallorca. This is a much-needed vacation—although they're getting ready to mark their 35th anniversary, tensions and recriminations have been bubbling up at home since Jim's long-time job at a men's magazine ended.

Coming along for the journey to this island paradise are the couple's daughter, Sylvia, who will start college in the fall, but is plagued by the betrayal of friends and social media's fixation on her misguided exploits at a party; their son, Bobby, a Miami real estate agent, and his older girlfriend, Carmen, a personal trainer, both of whom are arriving with luggage and baggage; and Franny's best friend, Charles, and his husband, Lawrence, who are dealing with anxieties of their own.

During the two-week period, the extended Post clan will sunbathe, swim, eat themselves into oblivion a time or two, visit a few tourist spots, and confront a host of issues—from infidelity, insecurity, uncertainty about the future, lust, betrayal, anger, and deception. (Just to name a few.) But while that laundry list may make The Vacationers sound like a heavy, melodramatic book, it's truly anything but. In Straub's capable hands, the plot flows like the waters of the Mediterranean, and the characters, while flawed, hook you quickly.

This is a book about the balance between keeping up appearances and letting it all hang out, dealing with the truth or continuing to live in denial, and fighting for what you want (as well as what you don't). There isn't necessarily anything unique about the plot, but it's still fun and interesting, and a really quick read.

Truth be told, The Vacationers couldn't be any more appropriate of a title for a book that will be perfect to read on the beach, on an airplane, by the pool, or wherever your vacation takes you.

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