The Vacationers by Emma Straub


    One married couple, on the rocks.  Check.

    One disaffected, about-to-leave-for-college, recently-Facebook-traumatized teenage daughter.  Check.

    One selfish adult son and his much older girlfriend.  Check.

    One gay couple awaiting news of an adoption.  Check.

   Add in the exotic locale of Mallorca, a Spanish tutor both mom and daughter have the hots for, a retired Spanish tennis stud and lots of gorgeous food and descriptions and you have The Vacationers by Emma Straub, who appears to be all of 12 years old.

 jpbook-master180photo by Jennifer Bastien

    Ms. Straub has quite the nice website, incidentally, on which she uses some language that is definitely not that of a 12 year old.

   Amidst the romantic comedy elements of vacation-location-vocation, Straub (daughter of horror novelist Peter Straub) weaves a recurring thread of infidelity.  Jim, one half of the parental married couple, has recently admitted an affair with a 23 year old assistant at his magazine for which Jim’s job was terminated.  Franny, his wife, is furious.  Mostly silently, but occasionally vehemently.  Franny cooks, fusses, intrudes into her Charles, her gay best friend’s marriage to Lawrence, aggravates her daughter and torments her son’s girlfriend.vacationers

    The Vacationers is one of those books that I had a very tough time finding a character to like.  Of them all, I liked Jim, Charles and Lawrence the best I suppose although I don’t think that is the author’s intention.  The teenage daughter Sylvia was whiny and attitudinal as a whole.  The adult son and his girlfriend were narcissistic body-building freaks.  Franny was the Barefoot Contessa gone mad.

    But one thing Emma Straub does very, very well is add food, music and flavor to her book.  The Vacationers is an excellent book club choice.  It’s an easy but fun read.  It has lots of issues to discuss:  infidelity, kids going to college, older women-younger men.  And the food options are wonderful.


   Spain is the land of tapas and every time the group goes out to eat, Straub describes beautiful Spanish food.  An “overflowing plate of blistered green peppers covered with wide flakes of salt, touted pieces of bread with dollops of whipped cod, grilled octopus on a stick.  . . . Albondigas, little meatballs swimming in tomato sauce; patatas bravas, fried potatoes with a ribbon of cream run back and forth over the top, pa amb oli, the Mallorcan answer to Italy’s bruschetta.”  Ensaimadas, a sort of flaky pastry with sugar, makes several appearances.

  Back at their borrowed vacation house, complete with pool, Franny whips up group servings of pancakes with blueberries, roasted chicken with asparagus, fish with couscous, guacamole, pies, bread.  The choices are myriad.

 I would roast a chicken, serve it with asparagus with vinaigrette and try to make ensaimadas.  Photo courtesy of  Here’s a recipe link:



   Ms. Straub happily includes many specific musical references in The Vacationers.  Elton John, Maroon Five’s Hands All Over, Enrique Iglesias’ Euphoria c.d., and native Mallorcan Tomeu Penya.  She also mentioned One Direction, but don’t get me started.


   Sylvia:  Sarah Hyland, from Modern Family

   Joan, the Spanish tutor, Alex Gonzalez


   Franny:  Marcia Gay Harden

   Jim:  Sam Waterston

   Charles:  Bruce Willis

   Lawrence:  I don’t know.  I didn’t get enough of a feeling for Lawrence.  Someone likable, intellectual-looking, patient.

   Bobby:  Chris Pine


Love in the Time of Cholera: War, Peace & Parrots


    Gabriel Garcia Marquez died at age 87 on April 17.  The New York Times called him the “Magus of Magical Realism” in an obituary penned by noted literary critic Michiko Kakutani.

    It seems an appropriate time to revisit my recent post about Love in the Time of Cholera, a novel about love, passion, life, death and time.

      While the choleric anger of petty rage inflames ego-driven wars to ravage the countryside and population of an unknown Central American nation, a doctor, his wife and the man who has loved her for decades spend their days involved in their own lives.  Sheltered from the country’s wars by wealth.  Suffused with longing.  Having an astounding amount of sex.  Love in the TIme of Cholera, published in 1985 by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is at times a study of frustration, devotion, persistence, ambition, betrayal, forgiveness, obsession.  It is a novel of life and yet the author warned readers of Love, “not to fall into my trap.”  He also told the New Yorker that the book is based on the love story of his own parents. Fermina, the daughter of a successful but disreputable business man, falls desperately in love with beak-nosed, skinny Florentino, a man without resources other than his ability to write really hot letters.  Fermina’s father forbids the relationship and thus the love grows, desperately, until one day Fermina runs smack into Florentino and decides the Garcia Marquez equivalent of:  Ugh.  What have I been thinking.  Frankly, his description sounds rather crow-life (and not nearly as good-looking as Javier Bardem who played him in the 2008 movie), yet despite all that, Florentino becomes rather the Don Juan and Wilt Chamberlain of his time and place, devoting the next 51 years to satisfying every woman within reach (including his 14 year old ward) while reveling in his own unrequited love.

wilt Javier220px-DonJuanP

  Because you see, Dr. Juvenal Urbino takes as his wife Fermina and they what Juvenal believes to be happily ever after.  Until he falls off a ladder trying to return his pet parrot to its cage (not a spoiler because this happens in the first few pages).   Ah, such is life.  Florentino then must try to take advantage of Fermina’s sudden availability to requite the love that has delightfully tortured him for the past five decades.  “Fermina,” he said, “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.” The book is dazzlingly full of brilliant natural descriptions, the confusion of human emotions, of journeys.  The book is perhaps, most importantly, a metaphor for life. For your book club, I suggest a South American menu, including (and perhaps most importantly) a drink called a Pisco Sour.  Pisco is a brandy common to Peru and Chile and this drink is delicious.  There are harder ways of making it:  whipping the egg whites, folding them in bit by bit, etc. but this recipe works:

4 cups ice cubes
1 cup pisco
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup white sugar
1 egg white
aromatic bitters
1. Place ice cubes, pisco, lemon juice, sugar, egg white, and bitters in the bowl of a blender. Blend on high speed until finely pureed. Pour into two glasses and garnish with an additional dash of bitters.

I would add a warm wild rice salad with fresh julienned vegetables and spicy popcorn shrimp, some guacamole with blue corn chips and a Tres Leches cake for dessert.  I have not tried this recipe, so I’m simply giving you the link to the all recipes page. Music:  oh this is way too easy, I know, but iTunes and Amazon actually sell the soundtrack for the Love in the Time of Cholera movie.  And if you want something sexier, try mixing Shakira, Enrique Iglesias and Frank Sinatra. 1920s_valentine_kiss_retro_art_beverage_coasters-re95e368b14ad424d85fba372ca135ad6_ambkq_8byvr_512