Some writers to have the special gift of outlining the extraordinary in the ordinary lives, to explain and explore simple facts in life, revealing hidden meanings and normal ways of being not always visible at the first sight. A middle-class US family is heading to an impossible-to-pronounce-correctly place in Spain for the usual summer vacation. Two family friends are also invited. On the lifespan of 14 days, hidden dramas and personal struggles will be revealed.
Every chapter is structured as a day, covering the various events taking place in the life of the characters. The novel is slow-paced, not with many events taking place, with a lot of food hints, food being not only the writing topic of the main woman character Franny, but also the common denominator bringing people together. Sounds stereotypical, but there are the facts of life.
From teenage drama to midlife crisis, age difference in couples or gay marriage, all the simple facts of the everyday life are covered, explained and scrutinized. Like many of us, at least once in a while, the characters in this book learn to ask questions or wonder why they didn't ask the right question earlier on. In the words of one of the book characters, Lawrence: 'Life would be so much more interesting if one could ask all the questions one wanted to and expect honest answers'. Hence, the enormous inspiration for the writer who is able to play with the interstices between questions.
In the comfort of the big Spanish holiday house, they learn to listen to their silences and remake commitments. One of the most difficult things, despite the easiness we sometimes assume them or take them for granted, at least for a while. 'There was nothing in life harder or more important than agreeing every morning to stay the course, to go back to your forgotten self of so many years ago, and to make the same decision'.
Another plus of the book is the fine irony and the humor of some episodes, again simple things in life outlined under a different angle. My favorite so far is the moment when Franny 'hit herself in the head with the butt of her tennis raquet and briefly knocked herself unconscious'.
Families might be mysterious - 'Other people's families were as mysterious as an alien species, full of secret codes and shared histories' - or just equally unhappy, but they may offer infinite inspiration for the good writer.
Rating: 4 stars