Last Summer at the Golden Hotel

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel

by Elyssa Friedland


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A Good Morning America Buzz Pick
A Can’t-Miss Beach Read For Summer 2021 from The Skimm
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A Best Summer Read of 2021 from PopSugar

A family reunion for the ages when two clans convene for the summer at their beloved getaway in the Catskills—perfect for fans of Dirty Dancing and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—from the acclaimed author of The Floating Feldmans.

In its heyday, The Golden Hotel was the crown jewel of the hotter-than-hot Catskills vacation scene. For more than sixty years, the Goldman and Weingold families – best friends and business partners – have presided over this glamorous resort which served as a second home for well-heeled guests and celebrities. But the Catskills are not what they used to be – and neither is the relationship between the Goldmans and the Weingolds. As the facilities and management begin to fall apart, a tempting offer to sell forces the two families together again to make a heart-wrenching decision. Can they save their beloved Golden or is it too late?

Long-buried secrets emerge, new dramas and financial scandal erupt, and everyone from the traditional grandparents to the millennial grandchildren wants a say in the hotel’s future. Business and pleasure clash in this fast-paced, hilarious, nostalgia-filled story, where the hotel owners rediscover the magic of a bygone era of nonstop fun even as they grapple with what may be their last resort.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593199725
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 5,226
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Elyssa Friedland is the acclaimed author of Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, The Floating FeldmansThe Intermission and Love and Miss Communication. Elyssa is a graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School and currently teaches novel writing at Yale. She lives with her husband and three children in New York City, the best place on earth.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Brian put down his copy of the Catskills Crier and grimaced. First the Windsor Word and now the Crier were turning their attention to the hotel. When he'd replaced all the mattresses with Tempur-Pedics (1,200 beds!) and renovated the golf clubhouse, it had been crickets from the reporters. Brian had emailed photos to the editors in chief of both publications and not even gotten a response. But suddenly the local papers were sniffing around, and he had six voice messages and nine unanswered emails asking him to comment on the offer.

He took a swig of bitter coffee from his thermos and stared blankly at the line of phones at the hotel reservation desk. There was very little about the day ahead of him that he was looking forward to. He didn't necessarily want to feel the jolt of caffeine, but sitting behind the reservation desk would surely put him to sleep otherwise. The phone had rung about a half hour earlier and had shocked his eyes into an open position, but when he'd answered, "Good morning, the Golden Hotel," a confused voice on the other end had responded, "Sorry, I must have the wrong number."

Historically, this weekend-the third week in June-would kick off the busy season. His father and his longtime business partner had built the hotel as a summer destination for those wishing to escape the hot city, boldly joining the ranks of many more seasoned establishments doing the same. But over the decades, they had expanded it to an all-year-round facility, with a modest bunny hill for skiing, an outdoor skating rink, fall foliage excursions, and spring gardening classes. Still, summer would always remain the peak time, not only because occupancy was at its highest-in its heyday, the Golden's summer reservations booked up more than a year in advance-but because its historical roots lay in the summer season.

Photos ornamenting the hotel documented the "hot" season from the early years. Brian loved to study them, to let the history envelop him as he passed framed pictures of ladies in the modest swimwear of the sixties, children licking Popsicles, men playing bridge under umbrellas. He made his way to Memory Lane now, the nickname of the hallway that housed the majority of the pictures. He eyed a large print of the canteen, which still served cold beers and hot dogs all day long, and the kidney-shaped pool, affectionately called the Nugget, where the bobbing heads of children looked like pinheads dotting the surface. A recent guest had complained that the curvy lines of the pool made it difficult to do laps. Replacing the pool with the more modern rectangular shape now in fashion would cost a fortune, and Brian didn't quite know where that ranked on the list of desperately needed renovations. After the bedbug crisis, he'd had no choice on the mattresses. And when the golf clubhouse had suffered a devastating flood, it had meant new everything. There was simply no budget for discretionary improvements. Not if they were going to make payroll. To pay the insurance premiums. To keep up bountiful platters of food.

"This look okay, boss?" came the voice of the hotel's long-standing social director, Larry Levine, aka the Tummler. Hired by Benny and Amos in the late 1960s, Larry was the kid from their neighborhood who could always stir up a good time. On the sizzling streets of downtown Manhattan, he hosted egg-cracking-on-sidewalk competitions, organized stickball tournaments, and was the first to pull the plug on the fire hydrant. When it was clear the hotel needed a full-time minister of fun, there was one clear choice. If the Golden was going to compete with the other giants in the area, a top-notch entertainment master was needed. Fifty years later, Larry was still the activities director. As he approached, Brian noticed he had on two different shoes.

Larry handed over a printed sheet of paper with a list of the hotel's daily activities. Brian's heart sank as he perused it. Combined with Larry's bizarre comments in the newspaper, it confirmed what he'd suspected for the past six months. And it meant he couldn't put off a call to Larry's wife any longer.

"Larry, this is an activities list from December 1983. Look here. It says ice skating show at ten; ski hill opens at eleven; snowman-building competition after lunch. Rubik's cube demo in the pagoda. Look outside, Larry. It's sunny. It's June, Lar. We have water aerobics, the walking club, outdoor checkers."

Larry stared at him for a beat, then glossed with the sheen of embarrassment.

"Right. What was I thinking? Let me go print up the correct schedule," Larry said, shuffling back to his office. These kinds of episodes were happening with more frequency. Larry would be unaware of his surroundings or say something totally out of time and place, but would recover moments later. Brian clung to those flashes of clarity, hoping that whatever was ailing Larry was transitory. He could ask Larry directly, but he didn't want to shame the man, who was clearly trying to cover up whatever was going on. This was common with dementia patients, according to Brian's Google search. The more prudent course of action would be to call Sylvia, Larry's wife. There was no reason he shouldn't do that today. It wasn't like the phones were ringing off the hook.

Brian took in the faded salmon of the lobby carpet, the mysterious stains on the wallpaper, the threadbare sofas with cushions permanently sunken from the weight of guests fed three decadent, diet-be-damned, all-inclusive meals a day.

Twelve million dollars.

The number had echoed continuously in Brian's brain since the formal offer had come in. "Twelve mil, huh?" his father had repeated when Brian had shared the news. "I have to tell Louise."

The Goldmans and the Weingolds were fifty-fifty partners, so that meant six million for his family, which he would split evenly with Peter. Technically the proceeds of a sale would go to his parents, but they'd already made it clear they intended to pass their share down. There would be taxes and legal fees, but he'd probably be left with more than a couple million dollars at the end of the day. To Peter, it would be pocket change. His brother was a partner in a fancy law firm in Manhattan. His house in Alpine, New Jersey, had cost nearly three million dollars. Brian had looked it up after his sister-in-law, Greta, had gone off the rails when he'd kept his shoes on and tracked the faintest trace of dirt onto the white silk rug in the palatial living room. Who chose white for a rug? Nobody with a hospitality background, that was for sure. Only someone with money to burn. Unlike Peter, to Brian anything north of a million was an impossibly large sum to consider. How would he spend it? Would he have anyone to share it with? Maybe Angela.

Angela Franchetti had been his on-again, off-again girlfriend for the past eighteen months. She was a local girl; his parents would call her a townie. She'd practically grown up in the hotel; her father, Vinny, was a full-time employee and in charge of the seasonal waitstaff. He was famous among Golden guests for his recommendations. The thick-accented Italian could be heard three tables over saying things like, "The gefilte is heaven tonight," or "Too much salt in the soup in my humble opinion." To Angela and the other children of staff, Brian, Peter, and Aimee were royalty, pint-sized nobility waiting to be handed the keys to the castle. And Brian had the Kennedy looks to go along with the Camelot image, or so everyone told him. Thick sandy brown hair that was just now going gray, blue eyes, cheekbones that Janet, the cosmetics vendor, wanted at. "If I could swipe bronzer on those babies . . ." she would kid him, to which he'd put up his hands in a karate defense.

His twin, Peter, took after their parents in the looks department. He was short, like their father, and had the same mousy hair and eyes that were mostly pupil with only a narrow ring of brown as their mother. It was such an unfortunately mundane collection of features that his face was hard to place. He was frequently reintroducing himself to people outside of the hotel. Brian may have cannibalized the attractive genes in the womb, but Peter had gotten the lion's share of the brains and ambition. While Brian was causing mischief in the hotel, making out-and often much more-with the daughters of guests and staff, Peter was completing math workbooks and tracking the stock market because he'd invested his bar mitzvah money in blue chips handpicked by some of the hotel's Wall Street clientele. And when his brother wasn't studying his portfolio and talking GDP with the old men playing pinochle, he was staring at Aimee Goldman.

Aimee Goldman. What would she think about selling the hotel?

The last time Brian had seen her was six months earlier at Benny's funeral. She'd looked good, considering the occasion. Upscale suburban mother was a style she wore well. In contrast, Angela was a messy-bun-and-jeans woman, but to be fair, there weren't many places that demanded formal attire in their neck of the woods, where BYOB could mean bring your own BB gun. Aimee had never really been his type when they were growing up. She was serious-not quite as much as born-middle-aged Peter, but she'd definitely needed a little extra convincing to be naughty. They'd had a sprawling resort as their personal playground, and yet Aimee and Peter were such sticklers for the rules, worried they'd mess up the furniture or get caught stealing ice cream from the industrial freezer. The irony was that after so many years of being reckless with his future inheritance, he was the one overseeing the place, while his brother and Aimee barely gave the Golden a second thought.

He supposed Aimee was nominally involved as Special Advisor. Or was her title Creative Director? When she came with her family for the last two weeks of summer, she would stop by Brian's office and ask for an update. How were reservations looking? Was the town still making trouble about the garbage dumps by the highway? How serious was the racetrack odor problem? Brian didn't resent reporting to her-if anything, talking to Aimee about the business was invigorating. The staffers cared, but there was nothing like speaking to a fellow owner, someone born at the Golden, who carried its essence in their blood. When Aimee would leave with her family, it would reinforce just how lonely Brian was in Windsor without the company of his brother and childhood friend. He was never supposed to be here for this long.

When Brian had agreed to take on the CEO role, it had been understood to be a temporary move. He'd had wounds to lick, and the Golden seemed like a safe place to do so. If anyone was going to take over the hotel permanently, it would be his brainiac brother or artistic Aimee. Peter was a numbers wizard and Aimee was visually gifted, and he-well, he was good-looking and charming, but that was only a fraction of what was needed to run an empire. Melinda had actually said that to him when he'd mused about who would take over for Amos and Benny.

Brian had met his ex, Melinda Roth, at the hotel. It seemed everything in his life could be traced back to the Golden. She was the first and only woman Brian had ever had to chase. Melinda had been staying at the hotel with her aunt and cousins for a week while her parents were overseas. Long hair the color of wheat spilled over her muscular shoulders, and she liked to keep her light green eyes hidden behind oversized sunglasses. She was from California. It was the first time Brian had ever met someone from the West Coast, and she might as well have been from another continent: That was how exotic someone from outside the tristate area appeared to him. Instead of being impressed that he was a Weingold, like most people he encountered, she rolled her eyes and said something snarky. "So you're just gonna take over this place instead of doing your own thing?" What could he do after that? He was hooked.

Brian liked the challenge she presented. If Melinda was initially attracted to him, she hid it well. Eventually, his charms and relentless pursuit wore her down. He flew her out to the hotel the summer after they met and did everything in his power to impress her. A famous magician was performing in the ballroom, and Brian arranged for Melinda to be sawed in half. He filled her room with roses. He had the chef deviate from the typical menu to create a health-conscious California menu. He regaled her with decades of the choicest hotel gossip: Melinda knew who shtupped who and where and when, and which guests paid their bills in cash and who never paid at all. When he proposed a year later, she said yes.

Melinda and Brian settled in Brentwood, a thirty-minute drive from where she'd grown up in the Valley. Fanny had cried for days when he announced their plans to move west. By this point, Peter had already made it clear he was going to law school, and Aimee was engaged to Roger Glasser, who was in medical school in the Midwest. Nobody from the second generation was stepping up to run the hotel. For heirs apparent, they were a pretty apathetic lot, though Brian never had any guilt about shirking hotel management. What would he be able to contribute, especially while his parents and the Goldmans were still vibrant? His father talked a big game about wanting to pass on the Golden legacy, but he and Benny were resistant to any suggestions from the younger generation. Snowboarding, happy hour, a rock wall-these were just a sampling of ideas shot down without genuine discussion.

After they married, Brian took a job working for Melinda's father, who owned a string of car dealerships in Southern California. Dick Roth was all about Brian learning the business from the bottom up, so he put Brian on the showroom floor for a year. It wasn't glamorous work-as a Weingold he felt more employer than employee-but he obliged to please his father-in-law. Besides, the back seats of the roomier SUVs had ample space for daytime snoozes. Shortly after settling into a new home and job, Brian discovered that Melinda was pregnant. He found the double-line stick at the bottom of their kitchen garbage pail when he was looking for a bill he'd accidentally tossed. He was surprised she hadn't told him, but what did he know about women? Melinda was the first woman he'd ever truly loved. Everything else was just quick one-nighters at the hotel and sloppy sex in his college dorm room. He'd figured she planned to share the news over a special dinner. Maybe she'd hint at it with a meal of baby carrots and baby lamb chops. Not that she ever cooked. Fanny didn't care for his wife's lack of domesticity. And Melinda didn't appreciate her mother-in-law inspecting her pantry and freezer and then sending three large boxes filled with prepared meals packed in dry ice, with notes explaining how to warm them up and suggesting side dishes.

Reading Group Guide

Readers Guide:
Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedland

Discussion Questions

1) Many characters in the novel are struggling with feelings of aimlessness or a lack of direction. What do you think is at the core of these feelings for each of them? Is there a character who deals with these feelings better than the others? Does anyone deal with these feelings particularly badly?

2) At many points during the novel, children learn that their parents are imperfect humans. Do you think the generations are sufficiently forgiving of one another? Are they able to learn from one another’s mistakes, or are they stuck thinking about their differences?

3) The secrets uncovered during the novel often structure the characters’ lives before they know about them. Have you ever learned something about your own life that you were not aware of? How did you react, and do you think the characters at the Golden Hotel reacted productively?

4) How does age/generation play a role in the relationships formed and kept at the Golden Hotel?

5) What does the hotel represent to the owners? To the middle generation? To the younger generation?

6) What do you think about family businesses? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with family and friends?

7) While reading, did you find yourself wanting the Goldmans and Weingolds to keep the hotel? Why or why not?

8) Where does the tension between Louise and Fanny stem from?

9) How does the sibling dynamic between Brian and Peter as they’re growing up shape who they become as adults?

10) Why does Brian manage the Golden Hotel? Where do his attachment and commitment to the hotel come from?

11) What do you think the Golden Hotel says about tradition versus change? How are we to balance these values or realities in our own lives?

12) What is lost when the Goldmans and Weingolds reach a decision about the future of the hotel? What is gained?

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