The wonderful thing about Elyssa Friedland’s new novel Last Summer at the Golden Hotel is how easy it is to empathize with the Goldmans and Weingolds — even for readers who have never set foot in the Catskills — as they face the thorny question of whether to sell their beloved Golden Hotel, a once sought-after vacation spot that has declined in popularity and fallen into disrepair.
For many years, the Catskills provided a welcome escape from steamy New York summers for Jews who were often unwelcome in other resorts because of antisemitism. Featuring lavish meals, big-name talent, and outdoor sports, the Catskill hotels were a social and cultural magnet for Jewish families who often returned year after year.
Friedland writes with humor and pathos about a dilemma that was surely faced by real-life Jewish hotel owners. Like the fictional Goldmans and Weingolds, many must have watched in dismay as the catskills were deserted in favor of far-flung vacation spots and paying the extensive costs to keep up the grounds and sports facilities became increasingly difficult.
In Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, family rivalries, relationships, and resentments come into play as the various characters try to figure out if there is a way to salvage a place that — despite its increasingly decrepit facilities — remains a big part of their lives. Each chapter is written from another family member’s point of view, adding depth and perspective to the central decision of the novel. Friedland skillfully intersperses lighthearted incidents — such as a salon appointment that goes terribly wrong — with serious family problems. In addition, the character growth over the course of the novel is uplifting and powerful.
Elyssa Friedland writes in an absorbing and entertaining style, making this the perfect upbeat novel to reach for when life seems difficult and confusing.