Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

This book was an easy read, but a very interesting insight into a family which is struggling to deal with all kinds of different problems as family members move into different life stages.  One of my favourite parts of this book was how the point of view shifted seamlessly among all of the characters such that you could see several points of view in the course of one chapter.  At times it would even take reading a few sentences before you realized the perspective had changed - but rather than being confusing it worked well.

The story centres around the Post family.  Franny and Jim are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary as well as their daughter, Sylvia's, imminent departure for college with a family trip to Mallorca.  Joining them on the trip are their son Bobby, who is ten years older than Sylvia and has not lived in their Manhattan home since leaving for college in Florida.  Bobby brings along his live in girlfriend Carmen, who is 10 years older than Bobby and a personal trainer which Bobby's parents look down upon.  They, or at least Franny, says it is because she wants to be a grandmother and Carmen is too old, but even Franny admits deep down that she looks down on Carmen for her Cuban roots, he lack of education and her "profession".  For reasons that are never really fully explained the family is joined by Franny's best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence.  The other few characters that enter the story are Joan, Sylvia's very handsome Spanish tutor who ends up teaching her a lot more than language, Terry, a biker gang paediatrician who befriends Jim, an aging Spanish tennis pro who Sylvia had a crush on when she was young and Gemma, the owner of the house they have rented (though it is never really clear why she shows up at the end - that part was kind of unnecessary in my view).

Everybody at the house is harbouring secrets and the narrative really deals with how the secrets unravel and the impact it has on the various relationships.  Jim has recently "retired" from his job - in fact he was asked to leave after an unfortunate liaison with an intern not much older than his daughter.  His wife knows and is, not surprisingly, angry and deciding what to do.  Sylvia knows some of the story - but not everything.  And in any event is dealing with being dumped by a guy she was involved with for her best friend and the Facebook aftermath of a drunken high school graduation party where she hooked up with several boys and pictures were posted for all to see.  Bobby, who has not been at home, knows nothing of his parents' issues and is dealing with his own - spiralling debt and uncertainty about his future with Carmen.  Meanwhile Charles and Lawrence await news about whether they've been chosen by a birth mother to adopt her baby - and Charles harbours doubts about whether this is what he wants, particularly because he is hiding his own infidelity story.

The narrative is quick, clever, and realistic - I really felt like I got to know and like all the characters, despite their obvious flaws.  I really recommend this book.

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