The Vacationers by Emma Straub: Book Review

FictionVacationers, Emma Straub, fiction
Released May, 2014
301 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon

Plot Summary of The Vacationers:

The Post family and a few select friends take a two week vacation to Mallorca, where each family member is grappling with secrets of their own.

My Thoughts on The Vacationers:

I included The Vacationers on my list of summer books I was excited about because  I thought it sounded like a mix of Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements and Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You. I had high hopes given I loved those two books and had read a number of glowing reviews. Unfortunately, The Vacationers was ultimately pretty blah for me. 

Franny and Jim Post are tackling a rough spot in their marriage that has forced some major life changes (especially for Jim) and hope this trip will give them some clarity on their situation. Their teenage daughter, Sylvia, is looking forward to reinventing her high school self at Brown University in the fall. Their late twenties son, Bobby, brings his forty year old girlfriend that no one approves of, along with serious maturity issues of his own. And, Franny’s best friend, Charles, and his husband, Lawrence are along for the ride. 

The Vacationers wasn’t terrible, but I kept waiting for something to happen…and waiting and waiting. Books like this (i.e. those without much action) really need something else brilliant to carry them…whether it be the characters or the writing or the humor. Straub’s writing didn’t stand out and I was missing the witty social commentary that made Seating Arrangements and This is Where I Leave You so entertaining.

I also didn’t particularly like any of the characters and was especially irked by Franny. I think I was supposed to feel sorry for her (I mean, her husband had just cheated on her with a twenty some year old…hang tight everyone, that’s not a spoiler…it’s discussed at the very beginning of the book!), but she came across as such a striving martyr. She was constantly cooking and serving everyone on the trip so that they would feel indebted to her and “need” her. She even makes a point of having to be the one to carry the most “elaborate” dish of the meal to the table to emphasis who should get the credit for the meal. 

Two final things bothered me that I’m sure many people didn’t even notice. Straub includes some scenes involving sports (swimming and tennis) where she gets the details wrong. I was a competitive swimmer growing up and am now an avid tennis fan, so this sloppiness drove me crazy!

First, Bobby is swimming laps in the pool behind their rented house, and Straub mentions that “6 laps of a pool is a mile”. I’m not sure how long this particular pool was supposed to be, but she didn’t even come close! In a 25 yard pool (probably the very longest any private pool is likely to be), a competitive mile is 66 laps (with a “lap” equaling one length) and in a 50 meter Olympic size pool, it’s 30 laps. Even if you suppose she meant a lap to be up and back, she’s still way off. She also mentions that Bobby touches the pool wall with his hand before doing a flip turn, which you don’t do! 

Since the Posts are vacationing in Mallorca, she includes a fictional tennis center that is obviously based on the real life Rafael Nadal International Tennis Centre. She mentions that the fictional Nadal has a hair trigger temper on court and is generally badly behaved off the court. The real Nadal is supposedly one of the nicest guys on tour, well liked in the locker room, and rarely loses his temper on the court. I understand that this is fiction and she can write the character however she wants, but she loses credibility when her fictional character is so clearly based on a real person and she makes his personality the polar opposite of how it is in real life. Why not just be accurate?

Unfortunately, The Vacationers ended up being mediocre for me and the inaccurate sports details just put me over the edge.

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  1. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea wrote:

    I pretty much felt the same as you, yet despite our feeling, this so so book is getting a lot if hype. I rated it 3.5/5 stars.

    Posted 6.25.14 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I’m with you – really don’t understand all the hype…and it’s getting a ton of it! To each his own, I guess…

      Posted 6.25.14 Reply
  2. It is a shame nothing really set this apart, often humor or unique characters hold my attention in this type of read. Great review

    Posted 6.25.14 Reply
  3. MELZ wrote:

    Great review. You just saved me $17!

    Posted 6.25.14 Reply
  4. Rachel wrote:

    I always find this kind of thing weird. The best example from my reading this year was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. In the novel, Sarah Grimke is given a slave for her 11th birthday and that character and the relationship are an important part of the book, but in real life Grimke’s slave dies shortly after Grimke refuses the gift and tries to free the slave. I get that it is fiction, but the experience in the novel is an integral part of Grimke’s development into the radical feminist-abolitionist that she became, and I get that it is an imagining of her life, but why make such a huge change?

    Posted 6.26.14 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I haven’t read The Invention of Wings, but I agree with you! I think it’s disconcerting when you know the fiction is based on a real person to have details surrounding that character be so far off the real version. Even though The Invention of Wings was an imagining her of life, wouldn’t you use all the details you could and then “imagine” the parts where you’re lacking information??!

      Posted 6.26.14 Reply
  5. I haven’t read Maggie Shipstead, but loved This is Where I Leave You. The Vacationers was the first book on my summer reading list. I read it last weekend and absolutely loved it. The factual errors you mention went right over my head, though I’m certain they would have irritated me to no end if I’d been aware… and would probably have been a deal-breaker, too. I read almost all of the book on a boat under the most ideal reading circumstances imaginable… so that definitely influenced my overall reaction. Will post my review later this week.

    Posted 6.29.14 Reply

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