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“Vacationland” by Meg Mitchell Moore (William Morrow)
Don’t read this the wrong way, but “Vacationland” is a Lifetime movie on the page. There’s the college professor from Brooklyn whose marriage is teetering, three precocious kids, a gorgeous summer home on the coast of Maine, even a dog named Otis. Throw in a grieving love child, a patriarch with Alzheimer’s, and a first kiss for one of the three kids, and the recipe is there for a breezy summer read.
Meg Mitchell Moore’s writing style reflects that breeze. The sentences are simple and to the point. Here’s the love child, named Kristie, who has moved to town after the death of her mother, to meet the father she never knew: “She’s working as hard as she can at Archer’s, and the tips are good, but she’s not sure how she’ll ever get ahead. She doesn’t understand how anybody gets ahead who didn’t start out ahead.”
Kristie’s various interactions with the family are what mostly drives the plot. She’s not sure what she’s looking for in Maine, exactly, but owes it to her late mother to at least meet the man who chose to let her be raised by a single mom in rural Pennsylvania while he climbed the career ladder, retiring as the chief justice on the Maine Supreme Court.
Kristie’s step-sister, Louisa, doesn’t know any of this when the summer begins. She’s spending June, July and August at her family’s place in Owls Head, Maine, on Penobscot Bay, ostensibly to write a book, but really trying to navigate her own mid-life crisis. Her husband, Steven, stayed home to try and get his podcast network off the ground. They talk on the phone occasionally, usually misconstruing what the other is trying to say. The true insights come from letter excerpts Moore includes written by pre-teen daughter Abigail to her father, keeping him up to date on what’s happening that summer in Maine: “Dear Daddy,” begins one. “I have really big news. We have a new aunt! She is a secret aunt who Mommy didn’t even know she had as a half sister. I didn’t know you could get a new aunt at my age… This is much more exciting than Sabrina’s trip to Italy or Shelby’s dad’s new Tesla.”
And on it goes, until a climactic family dinner when all is exposed and the drama is tidily wrapped up. If you’re a reader who puts down the remote when you come across the latest Lifetime movie on TV, you’ll love it. Or if beach reads are in your vacation plans, give it a shot. It’s an acquired taste, but not at all unpleasant. Not every book needs to be Very Important. Sometimes satisfying is good enough.