Book Review: “The Vacationers” by Emma Straub

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

I liked Straub’s recent Modern Lovers, so I picked up her earlier novel, The Vacationers (2014). I was expecting a not-too-heavy story about contemporary family life. I was not disappointed.

The story is about the lives and troubles of an upper middle class family from New York City, who goes on a two week vacation to Majorca. Parents and pretty grown up children, plus a close friend and two partners, all in a wondrous house on a magical island. Wheat could go wrong?

Straub’s characters manage to have a bunch of problems and worries, compounded by not talking to each other about things. Aging, infidelities, anxieties about growing up—you name it, they’ve got it. Plus sudden unemployment and an endless wait to adopt a baby.

What they don’t seem to have is problems with money, food, or other necessities. Even with sudden unplanned retirement, they can still wrangle a trip to Spain. And the kid is off to college. And their friends are adopting. Only the twenty something son has money trouble, and that’s because he’s a realtor in Florida.

What I’m driving at is that these are not really people like me, or even people I know. (I’m pretty sure there are strong autobiographical strains here.)

They are, however, reasonably nice people, and we want them to work things out, and we want them to stay together. We also wish, above all, that they would talk to each other, for goodness sake. Straub does a great job of letting use see how these folks misunderstand each other, and how much good is in each of us, even if others can’t see it or misread it.

Reading this earlier book, I certainly see the common threads in this part of Straub’s work. New York family life, with teen agers. Writing, food, travel. Etc. She’s probably writing what she knows, plus a good dose of what she wants to be.

The most important point, though, is that Straub is a fine writer, and these stories are light enough to be pleasant to read, but complex enough to keep my attention.

I like it.  I’ll probably read more of her work.

  1. Emma Straub, The Vacationers, New York, Riverhead Books, 2014.


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