Book Review: Last Summer at the Golden Hotel

The Fiction Addiction

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Last Summer at the Golden Hotel(cover art from the publisher)

I started reading Last Summer at the Golden Hotel a few months ago, but I put it aside, because it was too hard to keep track of all the characters. There are two families, three generations each, and the book shifts perspective between different family members. So, there ware constantly disorienting questions as I tried to read: which brother? whose daughter? who's married to who? was that a Weingold or a Goldman secret? Wait, does he know about her secret or not? I'm glad I picked it up again, but the constant head-hopping in a large cast remains the troublesome part of this fun family novel.

The Golden Hotel is a Catskills resort, built and opened by Amos Weingold and Benny Goldman back when the summer Catskills was the "Jewish Alps." At its height, the hotel offered swimming, dancing, huge buffets, games, and plenty of matchmaking for the younger  visitors, but today, it's rundown and half empty.  Amos' son Brian manages the hotel, a position given to him by his parents when he floundered after his divorce. There's an offer to buy the hotel, a solid figure from a corporation who plans to dismantle the old hotel and create a Catskills casino on the property. The two families need to decide whether to stay or sell, and their deliberations bring up old hotel memories and family secrets, and the financial due diligence turns up even more secrets. 

This is an unusual book in that the A Plot, about whether the hotel will be sold or kept, wasn't the main draw for me. Although the potential sale gets the two families to the hotel and sets the other stories in motion, I wasn't really pulled in. The hotel was just so comically rundown, with ancient guests keeling over, that it was a bit hard to take that storyline seriously. Still, I enjoyed the family's memories of the old Catskills and the earlier generations at the hotel.  The real draw was the other storylines, with interlocking romance, secrets, and general family disharmony. Years of quiet snubs or teenage crushes are remembered and revealed in this reunion at the Golden. The payoff for keeping track of so many characters is seeing how certain events rippled out through the generations and how other events were misinterpreted and misremembered. It's like a condensed family saga, taking place in just a few days, but with memories of the hotel and the family going back decades.

There are a couple heavy-handed moments here, but in general I really liked meeting the Goldman / Weingold crew and seeing all their memories of the Golden Hotel in this novel.

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