Tolstoy once said “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and this would accurately describe the background behind the novel, The Vacationers. The Post family, Jim and wife Franny, as well as teen daughter Sylvia are heading to Mallorca for a two week holiday, which acts on the surface as the last family vacation before Sylvia heads off to college. The family is to be joined by their son Bobby and his much older girlfriend, Carmen, as well as Franny’s closest friend Charles and his new husband, Lawrence. On the surface, everything looks ideal but things are not as they seem.
Jim and Franny’s marriage is in a shambles due to his recent affair at work; their golden boy, son Bobby is deeply in debt and needs financial help, Sylvia is determined to lose her virginity and Charles and Lawrence are waiting to hear about a longed for adoption. It is the underlying tensions that make the novel more real and add both pathos and humour. Each of the characters is at a crossroads and the enforced quarters of the little holiday act to remind them of the both the joys and aggravations of family.
The characters in the story are refreshingly honest (though not necessarily to each other) and also conflicted about getting what they want while maintaining the status quo in the family. After reading the novel, I checked out a number of the reviews and was surprised to find that the book had a polarizing effect, between those who loved and those who loathed it. I for one was happy to spend time with the Posts and look forward to Emma Straub’s next book.