I shouldn’t be surprised that a book called The Vacationers turned out to be such a beach read, pure fluff sucked down my brain tube in mere hours, requiring no thought process, no chewing, no mulling or appreciation of language. If there’s one thing that I require of my beach reading, it’s that I don’t stub my toe on the 2nd paragraph and puzzle over its meaning. I choked as I was meandering along and had to re-read it a few times. It sits like a brick in the middle of a pristine tub of water – inexplicable. Which is unfortunate, because the first paragraph, nay, first sentence had such promise. “Leaving always came as a surprise, no matter how long the dates had been looming on the calendar.” We see Jim, rushing around to pack for a vacation, and can hear his wife and daughter in similar thrashing through the house.
But then, the thudding reject of paragraph 2:
There were things Jim would have taken out of his bags, if it had been possible: the last year of his life, and the five before that, when it came to his knees; the way Franny looked at him across the table at night; the feeling of himself inside a new mouth for the first time in three decades, and how much he wanted to stay there; the emptiness waiting on the other side of the return flight, the blank days he would have to fill and fill and fill. jim sat down at his desk and waited for someone to tell him that he was needed elsewhere.
I get that Straub wants us to slowly unravel the mystery of the unraveling marriage between Franny and Jim, but what is he, a dentist? “inside a new mouth for the first time…” leaves a lot to be desired in terms of hints of infidelity. But even that first bit, “the last year of his life, and the five before that, when it came to his knees.” Is he getting old? Or is he begging for so much forgiveness over the last 5 years that his knees are giving out?
Suddenly, we meet Sylvia, out on the street hailing a cab. It becomes apparent in a bit that Jim is her dad. The Manhattanites are headed to Mallorca for a family vacation, meeting brother Bobby and his girlfriend, along with Fanny’s dear friend Charles and his husband. Two weeks in a friend’s house on an island of Spain, drama ensues. The son cheats on his girlfriend in front of his sister, much to her disgust. The father’s infidelity comes out, and Charles punches Jim. Charles & hubby Lawrence find out predictably that they are chosen as the parents for an adopted boy. Sylvia loses her virginity to her Spanish tutor. Franny dashes off to get tennis lessons from a famous pro and knocks herself unconscious and later has lunch with the instructor while hubby Jim is spying on her on the back of new friend Terry’s motorcycle. It’s all very whirlwind and good-ending-y, if that’s your cup of tea.