Emma Straub is an author living in Brooklyn. She notably writes for Rookie. The Vacationers is her second novel.
The voice of the novel is very close to each character, all the while keeping a distance. I felt like a little mouse spying from behind the cupboard where Franny hids the Nutella jar. What did this kind of narration mean to you?
Ha, I love that! I hope everyone felt like a little mouse behind the cupboard. That’s exactly what I wanted, for the reader to feel like they were spying (both externally and internally) on the Post family and their friends. I love books that dip in and out of several characters’ heads—I think it’s a good way to show different sides of the same story without very clunky dialogue.
There is a lot of mouth-watering food mentioned in your novel, and it is often used as an instrument of happiness and peacefulness by Franny, the mother. When you set out to write the novel, did you plan that it would be one of her characteristic traits, or did it come along as her character developed?
I always knew that Franny was a food writer, and her thoughts/feelings about food were key from the very beginning. Unfortunately, I myself am not a beautiful cook, but I have several friends who are, both professionally and in their personal lives, and I love to watch them put together simple ingredients in astonishing ways. Food is such a basic human need, but there are those among us, like Franny, who use it to express themselves, and to comfort themselves, and to please others, and I just love that impulse.
There are several scenes around Mallorca with very detailed descriptions of the settings. How did you proceed for your research?
I read several books about Mallorca first—memoirs, histories, guidebooks, all kinds of things, but most of my research happened when my husband and I went to visit. I took notes everywhere—at museums, at restaurants, at the beach. We visited in January, alas, so there was no swimming for us, but I thought if I squinted my eyes just right, I could imagine hordes of people in bathing suits.
Carmen is looked down upon by the Posts because of her job, but also because of their implicit contempt toward Florida. However the New Yorkers are not outdone and we see here and there some cutting remarks about their pride of being Manhattanites, and, most of all, islanders. Do you feel that the sense of belonging and pride is heightened by the fact that this is an island?
And if I ever go to Florida, should I only expect to see people with tan, sculpted bodies? :-)
Well, my in-laws live in Florida, and so I probably shouldn’t say anything too cutting, but I will say that Florida is a very eccentric corner of the United States. Miami, where Carmen is from, is by far the most cosmopolitan city in the state. But yes-I see your point. One of my goals with Carmen was to use the Posts prejudices against her as a way of learning more about them, and showing a side of them that they weren’t necessarily aware of, something a bit ugly. As a Manhattanite by birth (though I now live in Brooklyn), I can tell you with absolute certainty that this kind of “island mentality” can be quite easily found. Manhattan is, after all, a very small island, and many of its residents never leave, making them rather parochial indeed.
(And yes—if you go to Florida, you will see many, many tan, sculpted bodies. That is a guarantee!)