I confess that I’ve read neither Emma Straub’s first novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, nor her short story collection, Other People We Married. I also confess that I resisted purchasing The Vacationers because the flapbio located Ms. Straub as a Brooklyn writer, which — in my warped little, vengeful and envious mind — is just one more odious hipster-lit, in-crowd sub-species like those who flapbrag they attended the Iowa Workshop.
But, buy it I did. First, the good news. Ms. Straub is clever, conversational, good with a catchy turn of phrase. She is funny in that “at one’s expense” insulting way of the good friend with the uncanny ability to zero in on the pecadillo-cum-character flaw of everyone she knows and make light of it; while sneering. The downside of such tender-snark evisceration is that one is left not much liking any of the characters in the novel, all of whom seem unaware of their privilege and self-involved to a near pathological level.
Haven’t we had enough books about rich white people? What do most of us have in common (and what can we possibly learn?) from people who can afford to live in Manhattan and Provincetown, summer in Mallorca, accrue triple digit credit-card debt and discuss selling stocks to remedy it, get forcibly retired from long-term, big careers for sleeping with an intern/assistant, buy a baby (sort of), are sexually pursued by ridiculously hot island boy/tutors and — well, you get the picture — and none of this seems to much phase any of them? Walk in the park stuff. I — who am being pursued by no one but Capital One (and this for pretty much SINGLE digit debt) even as I type — have trouble sympathizing.
I know. It’s a beach read. I know. But I’m not at the beach. I’m working. I’m poor. I’ve got no hot young men (or even, cold old men) with accents pursuing me. I can only afford the beach when my better off friends take me along as a guest. I can’t afford men with accents ever at all. And even my better off friends can’t hop a plane to Mallorca for a few weeks or spend a hundred thousand dollars on dietary supplements. I know. It’s a novel. And it’s a summer novel, written for escapism. Okay. I guess, for me, if I’m going to escape, I would rather not have it be with the one percent, and if it is with the one percent I want them to suffer more, and, it would be nice if it turned out that not every man was — to one degree or another — a pig. (And that’s NOT just about the book.)
Yet, despite all that, it was a fast read, well constructed, not the least bit taxing, but, for me, the aftertaste was … unpleasant.