9.28.2014

THE SUNDAY REVIEW | THE VACATIONERS - EMMA STRAUB


An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: 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 show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor 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.
- Goodreads


------

I picked this book to read on my way to San Francisco. I figured it's about vacation, right? So what could be more appropriate? I dove right in (yes, that's a pointed reference to the cover) and happily began slopping around in the shallow end. And mostly stayed there.

At first I had a lot of hope for this book. The characters were set up to be complex and rewarding to get to know, and the plot held the potential for exactly the type of book I love - character-driven that takes place in a vividly-drawn, foreign setting, balancing emotional depth with an exotic locale.

The setting delivered. I've never been to Mallorca, but I could see it taking shape in my imagination as I read, feel the sun kissing my skin and taste the fresh bite of garden-picked herbs. I'd never really read or heard much about Mallorca before, but after reading this I definitely want to experience it at some point.

Unfortunately the characters didn't quite come to life in the same way and the plot failed to provide me with enough originality to satisfy. I've been tossing this book around in my mind for nearly three weeks now trying to put into words exactly what left me feeling disappointed, and I'm not entirely sure I can adequately communicate it.

The characters had a lot to offer at the beginning, but I found that I kept waiting for more. I wanted to really get into their heads, to see the emotions behind their actions and to understand what led them to their next decision. I wanted them to step out of obvious reactions to their circumstances and surprise me - and themselves. But none of them managed to do so - at least not in a good way.

Most of the characters fit disappointingly into stereotypes and developed worse and worse decision-making skills and personality traits. By the end I really didn't care what happened to anyone in the family - which is just as well, since the story pretty much unfolded exactly as I thought it would.

In addition to that, the character descriptions were sometimes inconsistent and a bit confusing. My biggest problem was Carmen. She was the older girlfriend of Bobby, and a fitness trainer. But every time she stepped onto the page her description seemed to clash with whatever had previously been written. She starts off sounding like a ditzy Miami girl, then becomes a savvy and ambitious professional, then a controlling and slightly whiny girlfriend. And throughout she has these odd moments where she has unbelievable insight into exactly what one of the other characters needs to hear, which is completely at odds with how I'd been led to imagine her to that point. The muddled characterization left me feeling like my brain had multiple personality disorder.

You (hopefully) know how much I hate tearing down books. I think that's part of why I've spent so long thinking before writing this review, hoping the story would settle in my mind and stick with me in some way. Unfortunately, the longer I sit with it, the less positive I feel about it. At the end of the day, it just wasn't the book for me. It wasn't totally terrible, but it didn't manage to impress me. I also think that part of the problem was that I had insanely high expectations for it, having seen review after review pointing to it as the book of the summer.

That said, I think this is a book that will probably be loved by anyone who really sees a common ground with one of the characters. Though they're not particularly well-developed, they're representations of certain phases in both life and relationships, and as such can provide a reflection and vessel upon which the right reader could project their own experiences. Likewise those who are just looking for a beautifully set story and are okay with a relatively shallow storyline will probably be entertained by this book. And, of course, that cover!

------

Book Title: The Vacationers
Author: Emma Straub
Series: No
Edition: Hardback
Published By: Riverhead
Released: May 29, 2014
Genre: Fiction, Drama, Family, Contemporary
Pages: 292
Date Read: August 14-20, 2014
Rating: 4/10

2 comments :

  1. I've been wanting to read this one for a while. I'm not sure if I'll get to it though. Great review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I really struggled with this one. I wanted so much to love the book, and was so disappointed that I didn't. It was easy to get into and easy to finish - I just wasn't left feeling in love with it by the end. Such a shame!

      Delete

Share Buttons