Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"The Vacationers": A Book to Take On Vacation

I just returned from a fabulous vacation in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.  Living in Chicagoland means that weather through April is iffy at best.  One sunny day of 65 degrees can easily transgress into a snowy day of 39 degrees.  On Saturday (the day we returned from Mexico where the weather was 85 degrees and sunny every day), Mother Nature melted down with one huge 24 hour tantrum.  It rained, it snowed, the sun came out, and then we even had thundersnow before the winds started punishing us for being human.

Because I was lucky enough to rejuvenate in Mexico, the tantrum didn't bother me.  I stayed inside and snuggled up next to the fire with a big cup of coffee and finished the second book that I took with me to Mexico - Emma Straub's novel "The Vacationers."

I admit that I purchased the book because of the pretty cover with the people floating in a pool of aqua blue (my favorite color).  It's a shallow reason for purchasing a book, but it called to me on the table of recommended reading at Barnes and Noble.  I'm so glad it did, because from the first chapter I was addicted to the story of the Post family's two week vacation to Mallorca, Spain.

The Posts are a family in crisis.  Jim, the 60 year old Post patriarch, recently retired from his job as Editor at the magazine Gallant, and spends his days moping around the house.  His early and abrupt retirement stemmed from his affair with a 20 something intern named Madison.  She tempted him and he gave in to her youthful seduction and was "let go" by the board.  His wife, Franny who is a food journalist and loves to cook, vows to never forgive him his transgression.  Their daughter, Sylvia, a petulant college bound slacker is saddened by her parents, but even more disgusted by her gym rat brother, Bobby, who has become a Miami stereotype - a muscle clad, club hopper who hates his real estate job and is indifferent to his cougar girlfriend, Carmen.  No one in the family enjoys Carmen's company because her thoughts veer to physical fitness all the time and she shares no common interests with the cultured Posts.

Along with the four Posts and Carmen, a gay couple, Charles and Lawrence join the family for this two week getaway.  Charles is Franny's oldest friend and confident and his decade younger husband, Lawrence is set on adopting a baby.

Once they arrive in Mallorca, the tensions and truths start to come out.  All of the Posts and even Charles and Lawrence must deal with infidelity in some way throughout the 14 day stay (the book's chapters are divided by the days - 14 chapters for the 14 day vacation).  Sylvia is still reeling from her kinda sorta boyfriend's betrayal with her best friend, and Bobby gets into predicaments because he doesn't want a long term commitment to Carmen.  Even Charles and Lawrence must deal with infidelity.

The men in the book are a bit drab with the exception of Sylvia's Spanish Calvin Klein model tutor, Joan (pronounced Jo-ahhhn).  Jim's sullen sulkiness becomes redundant, and Bobby's adolescent behavior is boorish.  Charles and Lawrence are almost indistinguishable.  Sylvia, Franny and Carmen add some spice to the book, but oddly the ones that are supposedly unlikable become likable.  Franny bugged me more than Jim.  Sylvia was more annoying that Bobby in parts.  And Carmen, the one the family liked the least, was at times the most genuine and likable character in the book even if her whole life revolved around the next workout and protein shake.

Nonetheless, the setting in the mountains of Mallorca along with the conversations and thoughts of the characters and their dinners together (tense and delicious), were enough to sustain a great narrative revolving around growth.

How do you move on after failure and heartbreak? How do you start the next phase of your life? How do you know for certain when it's time to move on in a different direction? All of these questions are central to this story and Straub is able to equally capture the tension and the wit in delicate family situations.

Even with the too quick wrap up at the end of the novel which seemed less than real, the rest of the story pulses with the times in life where we are conflicted with who we are and what decisions we need to make to move forward.  And who doesn't love a vacation story that ends well (especially when reading a book about a vacation on a vacation)?

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