For Franny and Jim leaving New York behind for a family holiday in Mallorca was meant to be perfect, a chance to spend time together, with their family. Bobby, their eldest is coming from Florida with his personal trainer girlfriend Carmen. Their daughter Sylvia is due to leave home after the Summer to go to college and start a new life. Also coming along is Franny’s longterm friend Charles and his husband Lawrence. But perfect it isn’t going to be; Jim has retired and has had an affair, Bobby has problems of his own both with money and Carmen, Sylvia just wants the summer to be over so she can leave for college, but her interest is sparked by a Spanish teacher her mother hires for her.
Franny’s perfect holiday begins to unravel, resentments begin to bubble and boil over, secrets and lies are exposed.
The Vacationers is a very witty look at love, marriage, friendship and infidelity and how different people deal with them. The Post family have to be one of the most dysfunctional I have read about, their misdeeds and secrets are a plenty and the results are both emotional but written with a sense of dark humour.
Emma Straub writing and plotting is excellent, having all the protagonists contained within the confines of a villa is like having food in a pot, slowly heating up before bubbling over. What was interesting that all the characters had encountered infidelity, and all deal with it in very different ways.
The characterisation is just brilliant, all are well educated, intelligent, slightly spoiled, high achievers. I would say that Franny is the central character, she takes on the role of mother and tries to bring everyone together with food, as if it will help cover the cracks. She has a wonderful job as a travel writer, so is away a lot travelling. Jim is also a writer bur he has been forced to take retirement so still has to find his place, preferably out of Franny’s way and maybe even out of her life. The relationship that drew my attention though is the one between Franny and longterm friend artist Charles. They have a long history, she used to model for him when she was in her twenties. Their friendship is so comfortable, they are so at ease with each other, so much so that she takes a bath with him sitting in the bathroom with her, there are no inhibitions. I found it interesting that she is more comfort with Charles than with her own husband.
The group dynamics is central to this book. It is voyeuristic as we watch them deal with their problems, old and new, as well as their interactions between each other; Charles is angry with Jim for cheating on Franny, and the way the whole Post family dislike Bobby’s girlfriend Carmen, whom they see as being too old for him and not the right sort of girlfriend they had hoped for. There are so many possibilities and variables that captivate and entertain the reader.
The only complaint I have about this book is that I did find it hard to get into at first. The first few chapters didn’t really grab me, I seriously thought about giving up. I didn’t see where it was going, it seemed hurried and I felt it a bit disjointed. However, I am glad that I stuck with it.
The Vacationers is a quirky, witty and entertaining read. It has a colourful cast of characters that captivate your attention and draw you in to the plot. Ultimately this is a novel about marriage, love, friendships, and secrets. A perfect summer read that will make you grateful that you are not spending your holiday with the Post family.