Once upon a time, Charlotte Perkins had a close-knit, happy family – or so it seemed on the surface. In reality, the kids were kind of miserable and she was miserable, but she’s painted over those memories in shades of rose. But her children, Cord, Lee and Regan, were all – if not unsatisfied with their positions in her life, at least willing to obey her when she barked.
Now, years later, seventy-year-old Charlotte is still single and is living in a condo for seniors. On a whim, she submits herself and her now-estranged family to a contest to “become jetsetters” – travelling Europe on a cruise ship all expenses paid for nine days. When she wins, she must regather her brood and try to fix the cracks that have long formed in their shared relationships.
Cord has grown up into a venture capitalist who wanted desperately to commit to one woman…only to realize he’s fallen in love with his (male) best friend, and must face his mother’s possible disapproval to come out and marry him, all while trying to cling to his sobriety.
Regan is a stay-at-home mom who’s always felt like the family ugly duckling and always felt painfully dissatisfied with her life, though her giving nature has forced her to paste a happy face on the situation. Married to an emotionally abusive white-collar surgeon named Matt – who happens to be Lee’s ex – they have two children and Regan daily dreams of escaping, as fast and far as her feet can take her, from the life she thought would made her feel safe and rescue her from her mother’s penny pinching, but which has only left her feeling stifled and trapped. Suspecting Matt’s cheating, she hopes a vacation far away from him will restart her life.
Lee, a fame hungry, low-level never-was actress, just lost Jason, her boyfriend, and just had the key to her motel room lock changed. Clearly she, too, needs a fresh start – she was already on the road to Charlotte’s when word came down about the contest victory. She and Regan haven’t spoken since Regan’s wedding to Matt, and Lee desperately wants to know her nieces.
All three siblings and their mother collide upon the Splendido Marveloso. As they travel the world – drinking too much, getting into indiscriminate sexual adventures, and bearing several secret burdens – the only question is which Perkins will make it off the boat in one piece.
The Jetsetters is a fun black comedy with a lot of extremely dark strokes. Every single Perkins is effed up in their own unique way, and every single one of them cares about the others – in codependent, unhealthy or just plain strange ways.
If you don’t like flawed characters, you won’t like this bunch at all. They are an intense ride and sometimes quite hard to take, from desperate Charlotte to angry Regan to aimless Lee to self-deceiving Cord, there’s something about each of them that’s interesting enough to keep the reader invested.
The quality of the writing – smooth as an ocean – and the ridiculousness of the travelogues just add to the spirit of things (nude beaches! Ancient ruins! Good food! Art museums!). Romance plays a heavy part in the book – Charlotte is a romance reader and indulges in fantasies about well-muscled men oiling her up, and she passes on her romances to her kids with the “dirty parts” ripped out, and every single one of them is looking for a perfect love that doesn’t exist.
The Jetsetters will be enjoyed by anyone who likes a little acid in their sunny lemonade.