Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Vacationers


            Writing a review on Emma Straub’s 2014 novel, The Vacationers, reminds me of the 30 Rock episode where Liz Lemon struggles to compliment Jenna’s performances in questionable productions.
            What can I say? The Vacationers has a pretty, pleasant cover.

            Whatever you do, don’t protest with “but…it’s a perfect *summer read*!” As if reading this book during the month of July will blind you from its total lack of depth and entertainment. Lighthearted, sure. Zero substance, no thanks.

            Straub’s novel follows the Post family on their vacation to Mallorca, Spain, accompanied by the son’s girlfriend and a gay couple who are long-time family friends. All of the relationships are somehow strained: generational differences lead to distance, infidelity causes rifts, and poor decisions run amuck. The crew uses an international trip as a fresh start for all, but they must tend to each other’s wounds before they can heal.

            While my summation might sound refreshing, the book beats the drum of mundanity. There aren’t any twists and the most dramatic scene involves an overdue sucker punch. The description on the back of the book had me thinking that someone gets murdered. False advertising—the only thing killed was my attention span.

            The novel leaves me with a feeling of loss: While Straub isn’t telling a good story, it’s clear that she has serious prose-potential, and she’s comfortable in her writer-skin. She just so happens to excel at executing a predictable, plodding plot.

            IRL, Straub works closely with the Center for Fiction, which is a magical Manhattan library/bookstore/writer space that I loved enough at first sight to actually submit a Yelp review. She’s cool and quirky, and she rocks the super pale + whitish-blonde hair + bold red lipstick look. Again, she slays the book cover, but bitterly disappoints when it comes to the novel itself.

           There are so many wonderful books in the world that fit the cheery, easy-read category without boring you to death. Read those, not this. The Vacationers receives 2 out of 5 camel humps—spared from a doomed one-humper by Straub’s occasional wit.

*Straub, Emma. The Vacationers. New York: Riverhead books, 2014. Print.

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