The Vacationers by Emma Straub reads like the perfect beach book. I spotted a woman on the A Train reading the paperback standing up as she balanced and swayed against the center pole. She never looked up from the pages. So that tells you something right there.
Straub crams family drama, teen sexuality, a millennial’s emotional and financial struggle, and a gay couple’s quest to build a family into one very readable book.
She plops you into the middle of a New York family in turmoil during their two-week vacation on the island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain. Mom, a self-centered food writer named Franny, planned the trip to celebrate her wedding anniversary with Jim. But he did something awful before the vacation and everything between them feels tense and angry.
Sylvia, their daughter, is just out of high school and will go off to college in the fall. The summer gives her a chance to explore her feelings about her family and her sexuality. Her brother Bobby shows up with his older girlfriend Carmen from Miami. And that creates another layer of tension because the family doesn’t like Carmen and the parents disapprove of Bobby’s career choice as a gym trainer.
Franny’s best friend Charles arranged the rental of the beautiful house and he and his husband Lawrence share it with the family. They also share a secret between them that could turn out well, but makes them anxious and keeps them slightly apart from the others.
You bounce along with the drama and feel happy and sad with everyone and get to enjoy the local color of the Balearic island. In the end the book feels like a fable about family life and you close it with a smile.
And here’s another good book to read in August.