The Inn at Lake Devine

December 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Some people read A Christmas Carol every December. For other people, it’s Little Women. Others might page through The Polar Express or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Or maybe you’ve got your own personal little favorite–I’ve still got an irrational attachment to a cute little copy of The Twelve Days of Christmas featuring bear protagonists from my childhood. But the one book I find myself returning to over and over again at holiday time is Elinor Lipman’s The Inn at Lake Devine.

This might strike most people as an odd choice. A bare-bones plot of The Inn at Lake Devine goes something like this: Natalie, a recent culinary school graduate, runs into an old friend from camp. Her camp friend, Robin, invites Natalie to her upcoming wedding, only to be tragically killed in a car accident on her way to the inn where the wedding will be held. Natalie is thrust into the position of caretaker for Robin’s family and her would-be in-laws, developing a friendship with Robin’s fiance and his younger brother. In what is probably the peskiest detail to take into account when trying to consider this a “Christmastime novel,” Natalie is Jewish. There’s a framing device to the novel, where Robin’s future mother-in-law is an anti-Semite who once turned Natalie’s family away from their hotel on the basis of their religion–and this has dramatic pay-off later in the novel as both of her sons become romantically involved with Jewish women (one Orthodox, one Reform). The entire novel’s thesis statement, so to speak, involves the Jewish experience in America. How does it make good Christmas reading, then? Natalie captures the feeling I’ve felt so much as a lifelong agnostic–loving the trappings of Christmas, finding it beautiful, but feeling like an outsider nevertheless.

The other problem with considering this a holiday novel is that only a small portion of the action takes at Christmastime, and it’s the most tragic part of the plot! Those who are looking for cheery Christmas morning scenes of families singing carols and drinking eggnog in front of the fire should look elsewhere. But still, the book just feels so Christmassy, so lighthearted and warm, full of food and romance and family, that it fits in perfectly during the holiday season. In fact, I think I’m going to pull out my copy right now . . .

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