I had no idea who Emma Straub was until I picked this off of the new release table at the library last week. I assumed that maybe she was Peter Straub’s daughter, and thought I was getting myself a fun horror story for the end of the summer.
Well. I don’t know if she is actually related to Peter. Maybe?
And this was actually a pretty fun book. I’d compare her writing to Jonathan Tropper — telling a difficult story with humor and wit. And while I think Tropper might be funnier, Straub is a better writer, and her characters are much more realistic.
The Vacationers is the story of two families and their problems. Franny and Jim; their son Bobby and his cougar girlfriend, Carmen; teenage daughter Sylvia; and Fran’s best friend, Charles, and his husband, Lawrence. They all decide to rent a house is Mallorca for two weeks, putting aside their domestic and personal problems, and hoping for a vacation that can save their relationships.
Fran and Jim have big problems. Jim has recently been fired for sleeping with an intern at work, just before their 35th wedding anniversary. Franny, shockingly, isn’t handling this very well. Jim wants to be forgiven, but Fran isn’t sure what she wants. Jim is jumping through hoops for Franny, and Franny is more or less just ignoring Jim.
Bobby, a real estate broker in Miami, has his own problems. He and Carmen (his older girlfriend, that nobody seems to like), are in a rut, and Bobby has some major financial debts piling up. His goal is to spend the vacation buttering up his parents in order to ask them for a huge loan.
Sylvia is off to college in the fall, and glad to be rid of her high school friends and away from New York City for a few weeks. And she has a “bucket list” for her last summer at home, and the number one item on the list is to lose her virginity. Enter Joan, Sylivia’s super hot Mallorcan spanish tutor…
And lastly, Charles and Lawrence, a married couple trying to adopt a baby. Charles and Franny have been best friends for ages, and Lawrence and Jim have never been able to compete for their affections. Theirs was the story I enjoyed the most, and found to be the most realistic and intriguing.
The story is filled with upsetting, yet familiar, situations. And for the most part, Straub makes it work. To be honest, not all of it worked for me. I totally could have done without the quirky bits where Jim follows Franny around Mallorca on the back of a motorcycle owned by a British pediatrician. Ugh. But the rest was fun and real. We all know the mom who makes too much food, as if feeding people will make their problems go away. We’ve all gotten drunk and done something stupid that we wish we could take back. And every family has the relative who is dating someone that makes everyone scratch their heads and go “huh?”
I’ll look for more work by Straub in the future (I guess she has one other book, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures). She has a lot of talent, and this was pretty impressive for such a young novelist.