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Getting Away From It All

Three new comic novels to check out about guests and proprietors who check in.

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By Nancy Lemann


255 pp., $22


By Elinor Lipman

Random House

253 pp., $23.95


By Eric Kraft

Picador USA

346 pp., $23

Once upon a time, perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, a family of four could spend a week's vacation at a nice hotel for what a single person now pays for an overnight stay. Hotels, which once offered an affordable escape for the average family, have pretty much become the preserve of the privileged few who travel on expense accounts.

Exactly how this came about is a subject not examined by any of the three writers who have chosen hotels as the setting for their novels. What interests them, instead, is the time-honored concept of the hotel as a beacon of hospitality, a home-away-from-home, a place to get away from one's usual routine and surroundings.

In Nancy Lemann's The Fiery Pantheon, hotels are intermediary places, temporary oases for people whose lives are unsettled. The heroine, Grace Stewart, and her wealthy Southern family - father, mother, assorted siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and cousins - migrate from one expensive watering-hole to the next.

A beautiful but skittish woman in her late 20s, Grace is a study in contradictions: she dresses in the dowdiest, most shapeless clothes to hide her good looks, yet she can't stop flirting. "It is true that she would have batted her eyelashes at almost anything in shoe leather," the narrator notes. "But then, it wouldn't even have to be in shoe leather. She would bat her eyelashes at a friend, a relative, a building. She would have batted her eyelashes at a dog. This is the pathos of the incorrigible flirt."


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