Jill's take on The Vacationers by Emma Straub
The Vacationers by Emma Straub is probably the closest I've come in a very long time to what I would consider a "beach read". Not that this is bad or anything, it just seems like the books I favor tend not to be light and airy. And I think what I needed was some light and airy reading since we'd been in really warm, actually hot, climates for a while. Sometimes heavy just doesn't go with sun and heat.
And so it was that I was enchanted with the first few pages of The Vacationers while browsing the bookstore in Barcelona. The graphic cover didn't hurt either and I was definitely put into a vacationing sort of mind. This book had some good karma and was perfectly timed to the week long house sit we had in LA. What better place to read a relatively short novel about a dysfunctional vacationing New York family on the island on Majorca? I can't think of any, except for maybe Majorca itself.
The Vacationers is a witty, sort of biting tale about the complexities of relationships within family and with friends. Each character in this book seems to have something they are trying to get over - the parents are trying to recover from infidelity, the daughter is trying to reinvent herself before heading off to college, the oldest son is deeply in debt, a failure and is involved with an older woman no one likes. The other people in the mix are a gay couple who have their own infidelities they are covering as well as struggles to adopt a child.
There's a lot of emotion and "stuff" going on in the book. But there's a lightness to the language and to the scenes that make this a truly fun read. I didn't have a whole lot to ponder while reading the book, which was great. I just allowed myself to be enveloped by the well described characters and actions and had a great time. Sometimes a little lightness in one's reading isn't unwelcome. If you are feeling the urge for some levity, I would suggest you give The Vacationers a go. Just know, even amongst the light there is still some dark.
Zac's take on The Vacationers by Emma Straub
It's true that you can pair books with locations like you can pair wine a meal. It just doesn't feel quite right to read Crime and Punishment while exploring Morocco. So it's a shame that I didn't get to read this book until we were past the warm climates of Spain and LA.
Instead I wound up reading this book in a damp and moody Portland winter. A winter that would have been better suited to reading Jane Eyre a pile of books from the library about racism and gerrymandering in America.
A lot can be said for what frame of mind the reader brings to a novel and how it impacts perception. Because I really really didn't like The Vacationers. I found the family dynamic too one dimensional despite what Straub threw at them. Including isolation on an island, infidelity and conflicting personalities of two siblings of vastly different ages.
The main conflict in the novel was the infidelity of the husband, and it was resolved only when the wife was able to make peace with his actions. There was no discussion of this between them, only a simmering anger that could have been resolved externally for the reader.
Some examination into what got them to where they were would have been a welcome change. As it is there were a few well written passages describing his guilt mixed with fantasizing about the act. But that wasn't enough for me. Towards the end I really just wanted to chuck the book across the room.