The Vacationers by Emma Straub

What a disarmingly enchanting book.  It takes real skill to introduce a cast of characters, all of which are varying levels of gross.  The Posts and their friends are fully-formed people, which means they have hidden secrets that made me think, “Ugh, people are the worst.”  By the end, these secrets are not explained away, nor are they really atoned for, and yet…and yet by the end I loved this dysfunctional family.  Maybe that’s the real beauty of the story, that we can hugely screw things up and still find solace in the people we love. 

Straub is an excellent writer, shifting perspectives effortlessly from one paragraph to the next.  We get to see interactions from everyone’s point of view, which allows for some nicely framed moments of people assuming one thing and someone else knowing the truth.  People are more complex than we assume, which is also the point of this novel.  We can never truly know someone fully, but it’s worth while to connect ourselves to them anyway.

I loved The Vacationers, both for its introspective look at a variety of individuals and relationships as well as for its overarching messages of hope and endurance.

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For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their family and friends is a celebration:  Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has just graduated from high school.  The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also assure an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan.  It promises nothing short of perfection.

But the problems of home and not so easily left behind:  Sylvia’s brother, Bobby, brings the older girlfriend his mother has never liked, and Franny’s best friend, Charles, and his husband have their own problems to work out while simultaneously playing peacekeepers for the Posts.  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 reveal and those we try to hide, of the ways we tear one another down and build one another up again, and the bonds that bring us together.  With wry humor and 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.  The Vacationers is irresistibly funny and enchantingly warm as it shows us the wonderful, messy truth about family, friendship, and love.

Release Date: May 2014

Want another opinion?  Check out reviews by The Austin Chronicle and Reeder Reads.


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