The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman

Book cover of Inn at Lake Devine.

1998. ebook version. (Paperback version would be 253 pages.)

Recommendation from: Thomas at My Porch

In a nutshell:

The novel starts in 1962. Natalie Marx’s mother has written to various resorts about summer accommodation availability in Vermont. One innkeeper sends a letter back stating in part: “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.” Twelve-year-old Natalie, fresh off reading the Diary of Anne Frank, is both outraged and intrigued by the anti-Semitism of the innkeeper. The following summer – part by chance, and part by Natalie’s design – she manages to inveigle an invitation to stay as a guest at the Inn. Her visit as a teenager turns out to have surprising consequences in her adult life.


I read The Inn at Lake Devine on the day I flew home from my vacation in Nova Scotia. I was immediately taken with Lipman’s style. She knows how to succinctly capture a milieu, whether it’s a girls’ summer camp, or an ill-managed inn. Here is an excerpt where Natalie describes the arrival of a new family in her neighborhood and the politics of childhood friendships:

For a few happy days, I was courted by both sisters [Marla and Shelley], who wanted nothing to do with each other. Marla soon recognized my low social standing on the street – defined by my braces and glasses and twenty-inch bike – and worked her way into the clump of girls a year older (Claudia Forestall, Marybeth McKemmie, my sister, Pammy) who took the public bus to the junior high and dressed alike. Our mothers took us two younger girls to lunch in department stores, pretending we were better friends than we were. That’s how it was on Irving Circle and how I was raised: You made the best out of what was within reach, which meant friendships engineered by parents and by the happenstance of housing. I stayed with it because we both had queenly older sisters who rarely condescended to play with us, because Shelley was adopted and I was not, because Shelley had Clue and Life, and I did not.

Natalie, particularly adult Natalie, is a very likable character. There’s a part in the story where she steps in to help almost-strangers when they are struck with tragedy. And it’s not an act of saintly heroism, but I was struck by the wonderful human decency of it. Likability is not necessary for me to enjoy a story, but it is enjoyable to read a book and have the reaction: “I like you, main character. You are a decent person and I am on board with you.”

I knew very little about the plot going in, but was happy to follow wherever Lipman decided to take the story. And Lipman took the story in some unexpected but ultimately delightful directions. These unexpected directions aren’t handled as *big twists* at all, but I still won’t spoil you. I find it is a great pleasure to discover while reading a book that you have complete, instinctive trust in the storyteller.

The Inn at Lake Devine is one of my favorite reads of this year. I finished it in a day. I have just recently finished reading Lipman’s novel, The Dearly Departed. I liked it, but it’s not near as good as The Inn at Lake Devine.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Bookchatter – “As far as pace, I breezed through the book and read it in one sitting. There was one spot where it dragged a tad, and got a bit silly, but not enough to make me want to put it down.”

BookLust – “I salute Elinor Lipman for bringing attention to a serious issue by presenting us with a happily-ever-after comedy.  Well done!”

Brazen Bookworm – “If you’re looking for the perfect book to while away a summer afternoon, look no further”

Unputdownables – “The characters are fleshed out, and the story original. Lipman doesn’t ever hold back on the bad parts of life, but she also gives us humor and great pacing.”


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6 responses to “The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman

  1. This is one if my all-time favorite books! Certainly on my top ten list for humor. And my pitch always makes people do a double-take: “It’s a hilarious book about anti-Semitism!” I have liked other Lipman books but so far none as much as Divine.

  2. I recently picked up a copy at our library book sale (also on Thomas’ recommendation) and your post makes me want to begin reading today! I have a 5 hour train trip coming up in a couple of weeks and think I’ll save it for then. Lipman’s The View From Penthouse B was a highlight of my summer reading last year.

  3. aartichapati

    This was such a fun book! I’m glad you read it, and I think it’s pretty great for this time of year. I’ve still never been to a resort like the ones mentioned here, and I feel like I am missing out.

  4. I discovered Elinor Lipman last year or the year before, and I think she’s great. One of my best comfort authors these days! Have you read The Family Man? It’s my favorite of Lipman’s books, although The Inn at Lake Devine is a close runner-up.

  5. Carin – ha ha! I love your pitch.

    Thomas – thanks for the rec!

    lakeside – I read the entirety of the book either in an airport or an airplane, so I can attest to its ability to delightfully while away time spent in mass transportation.

    Aarti – I never have been to such a resort either. I’ve been to lakes in Vermont, but that’s where my mom’s family is from, so it was always in the context of family reunions.

    Jenny – I have not read The Family Man, but I put it on my goodreads list after you reviewed in in 2012. I’ve only read The Inn at Lake Devine and The Dearly Departed. I look forward to reading more by her.

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