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The Vacationers: A Novel

The Vacationers: A Novel - Emma Straub Received a copy of The Vacationers by Emma Straub through the First Reads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review

" 'Buenos dias,' Franny said to the woman in the apron. If she was
being truly honest, Franny was slightly disappointed that the
women in the market were all wearing perfectly normal clothing,
with mobile phones sticking out of their pockets, just like women
in New York. It was even true in Mumbai, that a woman in a sari
would whip a cell phone out of their pocket and start talking.
When Franny was young, everywhere she went felt like another planet,
like some glorious wonderland on the other side of the looking
glass. Now the rest of the world felt about as foreign as a
shopping mall in Westchester County."

The Post family is about to embark on one of the last great adventures as they travel to the foothills of the Tramuntana Mountains in the township of Puigpunyent. "Pigpen" as Sylvia and the rest of the Post clan have affectionately coined it, is a municipality in western Mallorca, one of the idyllic Balearic Islands in Spain. Globetrotting is an important aspect of life for this family, but this experience is a little unlike the others. This time they will be spending two weeks in a beautiful vacation home all TOGETHER with family and close friends, not split up, not traveling alone, but like one big happy extended family. While youngest daughter Sylvia has just graduated from high school, she is counting the days until she leaves the homestead for Brown University. Oldest son Bobby has seemingly been gone for ten years since he left the nest for school and hasn't looked back since becoming a real estate agent in Florida. He is currently in a "strong and healthy" relationship with a woman ten years his senior named Carmen who he met while working out at a gym in which she is a personal trainer. Franny and Jim have been married for thirty five years and they are about to celebrate their anniversary, but I don't imagine coral, jade, or emerald jewelry is in store for this couple's festivities. You see, Jim has recently been forced to resign from his job as Editor of a magazine for men called Gallant after having consensual sex with his editorial assistant Madison Vance. It so happens that Madison is less than half his age and only a few years older than his daughter Sylvia. Franny is a freelance travel food writer who has traveled all over the world tasting and most certainly enjoying their national delicacies. With the news of Jim's resignation she is unhappy with the thought of being the lone provider for the household. And after learning that she has been cheated on with a young girl, she for once in her life actually feels old, is seriously contemplating divorce, but fears being alone for the rest of her foreseeable days. Lawrence and Charles are a happily married gay couple that have been together for a long time, but have only been lawfully bound for three years. Charles is Franny's dearest friend and confidante and has decided to go with Lawrence to Mallorca to spend time in Spain but also help Franny come to terms with her recent troubles.

This book is slow-moving and plodding with little in the plot to maintain attention and motivation to read in the early stages. I was highly-anticipating reading this book, but found it to take around seventy-five pages before it became warranted. With all of the characters in this story it took a lot of time devoted to the development of the characters before the water calmed and you could settle in to the story. Towards the halfway point on to the end of the novel, the heart of the story really shone through. I like how the story initially gives the impression of being a quirky and humorous read on complicated family situations but ultimately is a very heartwarming, hopeful take on the dynamics of relationships in all of their forms. For me I was thinking of a mash up of which the movie American Beauty with all of the inner turmoil but through the lens of an 80's family comedy dripping in nostalgia and angst that come about in all ages. National Lampoon's Majorca Vacation.

" 'Did you ever think about leaving Mallorca?' She asked. 'When
you were playing on the tour, you must have gone all over the
world. Was there ever another place that spoke to you? You know,
somewhere you wanted to stay?' She cupped her hand under her face.
'Do you have any kids?'
'You ask a lot of questions,' Antoni said. 'Or maybe you're still
recovering from your brain injury.'Franny laughed and patted
herself on the head, which did indeed still have quite a lump,
but Antoni didn't smile. He wasn't kidding."

The characters are identifiable yet maybe hard to relate to given their economical standing. With that said they endure very common problems that afflict the common woman or man, in poverty or not. First off you have the hard working, reserved, near end-of-life or modern day mid-life identity crisis husband/father Jim. The career woman, bossy, headstrong, controlling, flirtatious yet vulnerable wife Franny. Franny is the sun in the Post family solar system, everything revolves around her. The rebellious, old-school, millennium child, traditional, strengthened by conventions, young daughter Sylvia. An older spoiled brother/son named Bobby that wants to maintain his youthful exuberance and shirk the responsibilities of relationship and occupation that come with a certain age. Maybe he should go by Robert to alter past patterns. Lawrence and Charles are a gay couple intensely in love but are at odds with their relationships expectations. They are struggling to adopt a child at their advanced ages, but watching the course of the next two weeks will provide them more clarity in their decision moving forward. Joan the young and beautiful native Spaniard helping with Sylvia's language skills, being a performance art piece for a cougar with a wandering eye, and being a guide for the family. Gemma the owner of the vacation home, she is a good-looking, well-meaning, intellectual dilettante, but lacks a clear focus. Not to mention a host of other secondary characters in the forms of clay court tennis professionals, motorcycle gang members...

This book reaffirmed my belief that their is such a joie de vivre in people across Europe. For a lot of Americans and Canadians there is such a depression or a sobriety about the people, they are so focused on pleasing others and fretting about the small things that they fail to enjoy the life that quickly passes them by. The Post family slowly learn to enjoy their time together, you just hope it will continue once they head back to New York. This book is very clich├ęd and for the pessimistic you may find many faults, but being the new-found optimist, I believe the heart and soul reign supreme. I would recommend this book to plenty of people but if you find gay BFF's punching out cheating husbands, or loving fathers pissing all over their sons jelly fish stung leg, or an older seductress trying to win the heart of an attractive, retired Spanish tennis professional by smacking herself over the head with a racquet then this book is for you. If you want something a little more deep rooted, again this book has a tremendous amount of heart, a lot of wise words to be had, and very real characters that you may not see eye-to-eye with at the start but I am sure you feel something for them by the end.

"All four Posts held their breath simultaneously, each wishing
for the moment to last. Families were nothing more than hope
cast out in a wide net, everyone wanting only the best. Even
the poor souls who had children in an attempt to rescue a dying
marriage were doing so out of a misguided hopefulness. Franny
and Jim and Bobby and Sylvia did their silent best, and just
like that, for a moment, they were all aboard the same ship."
" 'We made it, Jim.' There was nothing in life harder or more
important than agreeing every morning to stay the course, to go
back to your forgotten self of so many years ago, and to make the
same decision. Marriages, like ships, needed steering, and steady
hands at the wheel.