‘Last Summer at the Golden Hotel’ Discussion Guide
“Your grandmother hosted Eleanor Roosevelt! She was invited to the Montreal and Lake Placid Olympics because so many of the athletes trained at the hotel. Your grandfather was invited to the Oscars by Tony Bennett! So what if the Sullivan County Health Department gave our kitchen a C last year? We were once in the Guinness Book of World Records for smoking the largest sturgeon in history!” —Last Summer at the Golden Hotel
Popular author Elyssa Friedland, a master of entertaining, charming family dramas, brings readers to the Borscht Belt in Last Summer at the Golden Hotel. Secrets, scandals and rivalries are revealed as two families—longtime co-owners of a storied Catskills vacation spot—gather together to decide the fate of their beloved but declining resort. Filled with heart, humor, romance and plenty of schmaltz, the charming multigenerational caper is a perfect summer read rooted in a deeply Jewish question: How can we preserve our legacies and traditions in the face of change?
Local book groups are a vital part of Hadassah for many members. If your chapter doesn’t already have one, now’s the time to start! We encourage groups to have their own discussions about Last Summer at the Golden Hotel before or after watching the virtual interview with the author. To facilitate those discussions, we present the following reader’s guide.
- Last Summer at the Golden Hotel opens with Louise Goldman, wearing a sparkling beaded gown, closing out the summer vacation season at the Golden Hotel with a speech and a song. How does that scene foreshadow the events that follow as well as set up the family dynamics and relationships in the book?
- Author Elyssa Friedland includes a sprawling multigenerational cast of characters in her novel with multiple points of view. What do you think of her depictions of each generation of Goldmans and Weingolds? What stereotypes does the author use in building her characters? What stereotypes does she break? How do the characters’ perceptions of each other shift over the course of the book? Does your understanding of the characters also change?
- Interpersonal relationships, friendships, parent-child relationships, sibling dynamics and romances, are the heart of the novel. Discuss the parent-child relationships and the varying approaches toward parenting in the novel. How do the different women—Louise, Aimee Goldman Glasser, Fanny Weingold and Greta Weingold—reflect their generations’ attitudes toward motherhood? Would you call any of them a “good” mother?
- What about the marriages? The oldest generation—Louise and her husband, Benny, and Fanny and her husband, Amos—are shown as enjoying largely positive and loving relationships. Yet there are secrets they all keep from their spouses. Do you think that Louise and Amos and Benny made the right choices in their decision not to disclose certain things? Is it ever appropriate to keep secrets in a marriage?
- Matchmaking and romance were an integral part of the Catskills experience. Talk about the various romances and romantic indiscretions in the book. How does the older generation view dating and marriage? What do you think of Peter Weingold’s relationship with Angela Franchetti? Or Phoebe Weingold and Zach Glasser’s relationship? Do Aimee’s thoughts about her daughter Maddie’s relationship with Andrew Hoff impact your view of the couple?
- A number of scandals and secrets, both financial and interpersonal, are revealed during the course of the novel. How do the characters react to the revelations? Discuss the importance of that catastrophic July 4th barbecue. How is it seen by the different characters in the book?
- What does the resort represent to the different individuals in the book? How do the founders of the Golden see the place they built, and the changes that the youngest generation is pushing for? What about the middle generation, do they see themselves as “Catskills royalty,” a phrase used in the book? How does Brian relate to the resort that he is managing?
- The Weingolds and Goldmans are relatively prosperous, particularly during the Golden’s heyday. Compare Louise and Fanny’s thoughts about the trappings of wealth. Are their perspectives a source of tension between the two? How does Louise’s upbringing impact her views? Is Aimee happy with her lavish suburban lifestyle? Compare the decisions that Peter and Roger make around their careers and making money and how that impacts their family.
- The book’s opening pages include a quote from singer-songwriter Peter Allen: “Everything old is new again.” How does that phrase relate to the happenings in Last Summer at the Golden Hotel? Nostalgia, a yearning for a past perceived as a happier and simpler time, is part of the current cultural zeitgeist. Discuss nostalgia and retro trends in the Jewish world. What do you think is behind that yearning?
- For those who have summered in the Catskills: Did the descriptions of the resort—the scenery, the food, the activities—match your memories of your time in the region? Describe how they were the same, or different. Discuss the importance of the Catskills to American Jewish history. How does the Borscht Belt impact today’s Jewish culture and attitudes?
- Discuss the various solutions to preserving the Golden and its heritage. How do you think each family member voted in the ballot that decided the fate of the Golden? What do you think of the outcome of that vote and how the families balanced preserving tradition versus the need for change? Was it the right decision in your view?