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.
photo 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. http://www.emmastraub.net
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.
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 http://www.sky-blue-mallorca.com. Here’s a recipe link: http://spanishfood.about.com/od/dessertssweets/r/Mallorcan-Spiral-Pastry-Recipe-Ensaimada-Mallorquina.htm.
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