For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Our eleventh book is The Vactioners by Emma Straub and the review is written by Irene van der Linden.
Before reading The Vacationers I looked into some reviews, which were raving; never in my life did I come across the phrases ‘witty storyteller’ and ‘gorgeous beach read’ as often as I did researching Emma Straubs’ third novel. I was excited to say the least, to start this seemingly irresistible story, expecting all kinds of hilarious shenanigans. Boy, did I get disappointed.
Straubs novel tells the story of the troubled marriage of Franny and Jim, the teen angst of their daughter Sylvia, and their elder son Bobby’s crumbling relationship with personal trainer Carmen, a woman the rest of the family seems to hate with a burning passion. Oh, and there’s a stereotypical gay couple too! This group of people, who seem to be lukewarm at best towards each other, decides to spend an entire two weeks together in a remote villa on Majorca with nothing to do but get on each others nerves. Franny believes this trip is exactly what her family needs to become closer than ever, forgetting that the bunch of them where never particularly close to begin with.
So far, so good; Straub sets the stage for a deliciously awkward story. The dysfunctional family with it’s reluctant outsiders in the form of Charles, his husband Lawrence and Bobby’s girlfriend Carmen, seemed to promise a hilarious train wreck of a vacation and I was very much looking forward to the accident. Except, nothing actually happens. People talk, fight, cry, then talk some more. Nothing particularly funny, surprising or heartbreaking happens. After two weeks everybody goes home en resumes their normal lives, which is disappointing to say the least. Some might say that this gives us a realistic view into a slightly dysfunctional family, because that’s what people do, right? They just muddle along.
I beg to differ. This telling of the story, asks for realistic, deepened characters. The characters Straub creates however, are stereotypes with stereotypical problems; of course the husband cheats on his wife of 35 years with an intern, of course the successful real estate agent is in debt because of an ill advised investment, and of course the gay couple is trying to adopt a baby, while one of them secretly has second thoughts. A setting like this, in my opinion, asks for insanely enlarged drama, preferably with a poor outcome. That would’ve made The Vacationers the beach read I’d actually want to read. As it is, the novel tells the shallow story of simplistic, predictable people, making it lightly amusing at best.