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The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman May 2, 2006

Posted by pvccbookclub in Current Discussion.

May’s book club selection is The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman.

Natalie Marx’s family is planning a vacation in Vermont and, because the setting is the 1960’s before email and the Internet, her mother writes letters to several innkeepers in the area inquiring about availability and rates. Most respond cordially, but one proprieter, the cold and precise Ingrid Berry, writes, “The Inn at Lake Devine is a family-owned resort, which has been in continuous operation since 1922. Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles.” This unexpected snub shocks young Natalie, whose namesake is an aunt who died in the Holocaust. Natalie’s obsession with infiltrating the Inn at Lake Devine has surprising and often hilarious consequences.

Lipman’s social commentary mixed with humorous insight is reminiscent of Jane Austen, but with a modern twist.

Questions to consider for discussion:

1) Certainly, Ingrid Berry, with her overt anti-Semitism, is easy to dislike. But how to you feel about the other members of the Berry family who turn a blind eye to the Inn’s racist policy?

2) How do you feel about Natalie’s “friendship” with Robin Fife?

3) What role does food play in this novel? What does the desire to be a chef reveal about Natalie’s character?

4) One reviewer of this novel wrote, “Prejudice, in all its many disguises, is an unusually worthy but often ponderous subject; its very weightiness . . . often threatens to sink otherwise well-written and well-meaning tales.” What aspects of Lipman’s style allow her to avoid this pitfall?



1. iscreamkid - May 11, 2006

An enjoyed this story. I am wondering how much of the story is biographical. There is intensity in the writing that feels like the author was there.

Being a victim of prejudice is a frustrating experience. Natalie chose to take a path of development and understanding for herself. This led to unanticipated relationships and a richer life.

Did Natalie exploit Robin? At one level, certainly, but each child was needy and it could be said that the exploitation was mutual.

Empathy and openness is a learned attitude. Ingrid, when she had an opportunity to meet and become acquainted with some Jewish people developed a fondness for and pride in her Jewish friends.

It is easy to condemn those who practice prejudice. We need to remember that it is only recently that people have learned to be open handed with those who are different. Some people are still on the path of learning. We cannot and should condone such attitudes, but we should try to exercise some understanding while directing them to a higher path.

2. Alayne - May 16, 2006

I liked all the male Berrys even though the father did turn a blind eye to his wife’s racism. I think that Elinor Lipman managed to avoid being overly preachy about racism because of the humour and wit of the characters (especially Natalie.)

I think Lipman’s characters are too complex to be pidgeon-holed as either all good or all bad. It helped that Nathalie herself seemed to have a love/hate relationship with the Inn whereby she could challenge Mrs. Berry’s exclusionary policy but still give the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Berry and then his sons. She was disgusted and curious about the Inn’s owners at the same time. Even when she and Kris start to develop a relationship, she addresses the Inn’s racist policy with him in a real way. I loved their true to life conflict when Kris comes to see her in Newton. Their relationship was more honest than romantic in the very beginning, I guess, because they had to work out these conflicts before taking the relationship to the next steps.

I actually felt bad for Ingrid by the end of the story. Even though their mother deserved it, I felt that Nelson and Kris were a bit hard on her. And I wonder….were Nelson and Kris’ memories of their childhood home now completely tainted by their mother refusal of Jews? I must admit, I thought it was in poor taste that Nelson put a plug in for the Inn while at the Halseeyon and then I found it sad that Linnette, Nelson, Kris and Natalie were obliterating any signs of the Inn at Lake Devine existing.

3. anon - May 17, 2006

I loved that this book attacked racism is such a humorous way! It was so clever and fun. I did feel particularly bad for poor Robin. Clearly she wasn’t a great match for Nelson (or Natalie for that matter) but I thought that her death was sad and shocking.

The mushrooms! ! What silly fun!

4. Kathryn - April 17, 2006 - May 18, 2006

I enjoyed the book immensely. The characters seemed true to life. There are so many people out there that don’t even realize what is going on or what they are saying and doing. I think that Mrs. Berry was against Jews but that she thought she was really doing a good thing by keeping the Inn segrated. Mr. Berry knew that it was wrong but was too weak to try to change things at the Inn and therefore buried himself in his gardening and his mushrooms.

Natalie was bright and “knew the score” from the beginning and seemed to enjoy her role in baiting Mrs. Berry while she was child. When she truly fell in love with Kris, I appreciated the fact that she tried to make friends with Mrs. Berry and succeeded.

I felt sorry for Robin. Such a sad little girl. But, her end truly surprised me. I really didn’t see her death coming. But, when it did, I thought Natalie and Nelson would wind up together!

In the end, having two gentiles and two Jews running the Inn was a true delight. You never know what will happen!!!

5. Shelle - May 24, 2006

When we first moved to Phoenix from Iowa, my parents joined the Century Country Club. Why? Because Jews were not welcome at the Phoenix Country Club. This was early 1960’s. However at 8 years of age, I didn’t have the wherewithall Natalie had to write or call the proprietor. She challenged convention. She was clearly not going to accept the status quo at home, at the Inn and in society.

To add to my ability to totally relate to this novel, I married a gentile. Ironically, though, his parents readily accepted me, while my parents had to reassess their values.

As serious as the subject was, Lipman approached it with humor and a gentle hand. Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Berry were ultimately confronted, but only after they became familiar with Natalie, and Kris falls in love with her. It forces them to confront their prejudices, especially following the near fatal mushroom episode.

Speaking of mushrooms, I’ve done a little mushrooming. What a delightful twist. Natalie is being a gourmet snob, (as well she should as a true chef), and she ends up cooking the poisonous lasagna.

A well crafted novel, addressing the seriousness of discrimination by forcing societal collisions.

6. Dixie - July 7, 2006

I enjoyed the book. Love the title “Inn at Lake Divine” The clash of Jew vs. Gentile does deal with divine issues. I enjoyed the humor and the fair assessment of racial/cultural issues. The Jewish family was prejudice as a the Gentiles when it came to the issue of who their children married. It is Murphies law that our children gravitate to those things we object to. What did the son of my liberal, pacifist Democrat cousin become — a Republican career military man, of course.

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