Katie Reads: The Vacationers

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An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

I start this review with two comments:

  1. I have not finished this book (I’m about half way through), although at this point I’m not sure I will.
  2. It was such a relief to go on Goodreads wondering how on Earth this book became the must have beach read New York Times best seller of last summer (or was it the summer before?) and to see hundreds of other reviewers wondering the same thing.

This book is beautifully written. I love Emma Straub’s prose. It’s too bad I am loving almost nothing else. The plot is wafer thin and, according to the reviews I looked at, stays that way.

The characters range from bland to unlikable. I suspected I might feel this way from the beginning – when we are introduced to a husband who has had an affair (ah, the old man has affair with much younger woman trope, one of my least favorites yet a favorite of my college professors. Can we stop romanticizing this please? It’s creepy to read about older men in a position of power over a younger woman whom they sexually lust after) and the teenage daughter who is desperate to lose her virginity (another trope I hate). The only character I was starting to like was Carmen (girlfriend to the son of the cheating husband), but that took a while. We’re introduced to her through the wife’s eyes, and the wife doesn’t see Carmen as a good match for her son. Why? Because Carmen is older than her son is and the mother is obsessed with how Carmen is (at 40) probably too old to have kids with her son. Carmen is perfectly polite and keeps offering to help with making dinner and doing the dishes (unlike anyone else in this novel???). She’s also a physical therapist, and apparently a really good one, with a rocking bod of her own. This too bothers the mother character (and some others if I remember correctly?) because being a physical therapist isn’t classy enough (??) and it’s not okay to look good at 40 (??). The mother character also hates on the friend who is graciously letting them borrow her house in Mallorica because the friend is thin, blonde, and well off. So that gives you a sense of the mother’s personality.

I was really excited for the novel to be set in Mallorica. Except the novel could almost be taking place anywhere? We get so many descriptions of how beautiful the scenery is and how isolated their beautiful rented house is, but aside from the one Mallorican character the setting doesn’t play into the story much (so far? Maybe this changes).

I wanted to like this book, after all I had read so many reviews about how it was a great beach read, but alas, I seem destined to stay in my young adult and children’s book bubble.

Stay magical readers!

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