The Inn at Lake Devine is a looming anachronism, a New England WASP character all its own. It reveals itself in pristine white clapboards, rolling mint green lawns reflected in a mountain lake, and porches filled with Adirondack chairs, sat in by the right sort. And at this inn, a remnant of the old order, Elinor Lipman sets her latest gentle social satire/romance. The story is a yellowed snapshot of the social upheaval of the Ô60s and early Ô70s , a coming of age portrait in a land of plenty and prejudice. Natalie Marx is a sharp, sensitive teenager growing up in a tight-knit Jewish family. One year her mother receives correspondence from a Vermont inn that she had queried about summer rates. The note concludes: "Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles." Natalie's parents renounce but ignore this blatant anti-Semitism, but Natalie becomes fixated on the affront. She asks her father, "Do you think they've seen the The Diary of Anne Frank?"The family decides instead to rent a cabin across from the Inn on Lake Devine for the next few summers. On one of these vacations, at the instigation of Natalie and her father, the family adopts another name and travels to the other side of the lake to inquire in person about vacancies. The Inn seems an ideal place for a healing experiment; they need to prove to themselves that people are generally decent, if only to one's face. The following summer, Natalie discovers that her camp mate is going with her family to the Inn, and she manipulates her way into an invitation. Now she will infiltrate the Inn's halls as herself, and encounter the monster. Lipman uses an oblique, subtle wit that pins emotions down with a glob of Blu-Tak instead of a nail. Natalie's search for answers to unanswerable questions moves along with an elegant dignity; as she grows up, her fate seems bound to a place and issues that she rearranges with grace and compassion, finally finding peace in their patterns. At the end, the story surprises that it has finished, that there isn't more to say. Leaving the reader wistful for eternal justice and a conquering love is perhaps the subtlest move of all.
Reviewed by Deanna Larson.