The Vacationers begins with a dilemma most of us will recognise:
Jim had packed his suitcase the night before, but now, moments before their scheduled departure, he was wavering. Had he packed enough books?
However, books are really the least of Jim’s worries and the rest of the Post family have issues to deal with too, issues that are going to come to a head during their two week holiday in Majorca.
The (extended) Post family consists of Jim and Franny, 18-year-old daughter Sylvia, 28-year-old son Bobby and his girlfriend Carmen, and Franny’s best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence. It seems that none of them are particularly looking forward to spending time in a villa together.
Jim was, until a month ago, editor of New York based magazine Gallant, where he’s worked for forty years. Currently, his relationship with Fran is very frosty. Fran’s a writer, one who daughter Sylvia describes as:
…like Joan Didion, only with an appetite, or like Ruth Reichl, but with an attitude problem.
Sylvia, like any eighteen-year-old, is not impressed at the thought of spending two of her final six weeks before college starts on holiday with her parents. She’s looking forward to being free from:
…the ghosts of the girl she’d been at sixteen, at twelve, at five, where she was detached from her parents and her brother and she could just be, like an astronaut floating in space, unencumbered by gravity.
Sylvia’s made a list of things she needs to do before college. It’s only four items long and the most important is number four, ‘Lose virginity’.
When Bobby and Carmen arrive, the problem seems to be with Carmen who’s older than Bobby and disliked by the family for not being a great intellect or artistic – she’s a personal trainer. There’s much more going on here than the rest of the family are aware of though.
The most straightforward concern belongs to Charles and Lawrence who are trying to adopt a baby. Their relationship has its moments though, largely due to Charles and Fran’s friendship. As Jim says:
Once Charles arrived, Franny would start laughing the way she had when she was twenty-four, and the rest of them could start setting one another on fire for all she cared. That’s what best friends did: ruin people for everyone else.
The joy of The Vacationers is how Straub seems to effortlessly move the focus of the narration from character to character. This gives us an insight into their thoughts about each other, many of which are searing in exactly the way families and close friends criticise each other. It makes the novel both very funny and so biting you’ll wince at some of the lines.
Straub interweaves each characters’ story with perfectly paced plotting making The Vacationers very difficult to put down. In the end, I abandoned the jobs that needed doing and indulged in the last 100 pages. This book should be very high on your summer holiday reads indeed.
Thanks to Picador for the review copy.