The Vacationers by Emma Straub
The Vacationers by Emma Straub is a rare gem that captures the voice of every character it wraps its pages around. In this sense comparable to Mark Haddon’s family drama The Red House, this second work from New York-based Straub is an American European hybrid of mistakes, misgivings and misadventures.
Like two-faced ancient Janus, The Vacationers captures beginnings and transitions, open doors and endings. None of the central characters – mother hen Franny, sheepish father Jim, precocious son Bobby, witty daughter Sylvia, older girlfriend Carmen, gay couple Charles and Lawrence – are particularly likeable, but that adds to their charm. With no one to root for, the reader is allowed to take on the blissful state of impartial observer, neither impassioned nor irritated, but intrigued.
The well-to-do Post family ups sticks from sweltering New York City to holiday in the sunny climes of Mallorca. For Jim it’s his chance to patch up his life’s error with thickening wife Franny, but it’s clear from the outset she’s not keen. Charles and Lawrence are on tenterhooks waiting for the baby that could make all their dreams come true. Bobby’s demons haunt him as he realises cougar Carmen might not be for him, and Sylvia spends her fortnight lusting after gorgeous Spanish tutor Juan. It’s a melting pot of tension, veiled threats and outright disdain.
Straub’s writing is witty and biting, so searing that you feel you’re right at the poolside with the Posts. Delectable food, exercise regimes and night-time antics are described with glee and a sure sense of minutiae. This novel is intensely contemplated, drawing the reader into the dark, hot folds of the holiday home and the breathy secrets revealed within.
Perfect beach reading with far less whimsy than a typical holiday novel, The Vacationers is a sturdy, stimulating portrait of a reluctantly loving family on the brink of being unhinged from one another forever.