Archive for the ‘misdirected attention’ Tag

More Than A Day on the Beach   Leave a comment


The Vacationers by Emma Straub is as bright as a day on the beach and also as gritty. Full of poignant, laugh-out-loud descriptions, Straub masterfully portrays a family in crisis.

Jim and Franny Post, with their teenage-daughter, thirty-something son, his girlfriend, and Franny’s best friend Charles and his partner are slated to spend two weeks together in a large rented house on Mallorca. Each chapter represents one day of the vacation and every day includes various perspectives provided by the connected tourists. These are separate views more than distinct voices. Each character hopes to project, or better yet protect, a certain image, because everyone has a secret – some known to a few, others hidden.

The Posts, married 35 years, are financially well-off, privileged. Their daughter, Sylvia, is set to start at Brown in the fall, and the trip was planned as a family celebration. However, in the interim from when the trip was conceived and actually occurs, Jim has had an affair and lost his job. Some know this; others don’t.

As the emotional baggage is shuffled around, the Posts direct their own disappointments to Carmen, the girlfriend. She’s perhaps the most honest among the group, but she is also subjected to the family’s rude behavior. Only Sylvia demonstrates fleeting moments of kindness and understanding.

Yet, the novel isn’t about being mean to others. It’s focused on what people do to live with themselves, even when they’re basking in the sun and have been out too long without sunscreen.

The Vacationers
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2014
292 pages

Poetry in the Eye of a Storm   Leave a comment


Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is one of those books that once it comes in the front door, makes itself right at home. At first, I was reluctant to let it in. The cover isn’t intriguing and I don’t always appreciate the same books as the friend who recommended this one. Ward’s book, however, is a winning guest. Literally: it’s the 2011 National Book Award Winner.

Fifteen-year-old Esch, her three brothers and frequently-drunk father live in rural coastal Mississippi. The story follows the 12 days leading up to, and including, Hurricane Katrina’s arrival. Despite what appears to be laissez faire parenting, Esch’s father is increasingly concerned about a possible powerful storm making land. In between drinking binges, he tries to ready the family’s ramshackle home.

Told from Esch’s point of view, Ward has crafted a beautifully poetic, heartbreaking story of family love, loyalty and misdirected affection. Esch is an intelligent young woman, but she lives without benefit of another woman’s perspective; her mother died seven years earlier. The only other female around is her brother Skeetah’s pit bull, China.

The impending hurricane and Skeetah’s concern for China are told as parallel accounts. China, bred for fighting, has just given birth to her first litter. Despite their father’s appeals for help to make the house secure, the kids go about their lives as usual: basketball, swimming and hanging out with friends. Even without the storm’s threat, it becomes quickly evident that all is not as carefree as it appears.

Salvage the Bones
Four Bookmarks
Bloomsbury, 2011
258 pages