Guests on Earth

( 4 )

Overview

“Reading Lee Smith ranks among the great pleasures of American fiction . . . Gives evidence again of the grace and insight that distinguish her work.” —Robert Stone, author of Death of the Black-Haired Girl

It’s 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital, a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina, known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing ...

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Overview

“Reading Lee Smith ranks among the great pleasures of American fiction . . . Gives evidence again of the grace and insight that distinguish her work.” —Robert Stone, author of Death of the Black-Haired Girl

It’s 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital, a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina, known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing of the hospital’s most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses cascading events that lead up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward, Zelda among them. Author Lee Smith has created, through a seamless blending of fiction and fact, a mesmerizing novel about a world apart—in which art and madness are luminously intertwined.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Zelda Fitzgerald is fictionalized and given a supporting role in Smith’s (On Agate Hill) chronicle of a girl whose life is changed by a North Carolina mental institution. In 1936, after her mother’s suicide in New Orleans, 13-year-old Evalina Toussaint is sent to live at Highland Hospital. There, she’s mothered by Grace Potter Carroll, the director’s wife, who gives Evalina music lessons and a shot at a normal life. Evalina also meets F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, who swings from sweetness to cruelty, and often mistakes Evalina for her daughter Patricia. Mrs. Carroll and Evalina grow apart as the latter leaves Highland to attend school and eventually become engaged. When tragedy strikes and Evalina finds herself once again at the hospital, the Carrolls are no longer in charge, though Zelda remains among the changing crop of patients. At this point, the book becomes truly engaging, as Smith introduces characters like the charming Dixie Calhoun. Evalina also finds herself smitten with groundskeeper Pan Otto, who was found locked in a cage as a child, and doctor Freddy Sledge. Many tragedies pepper the narrative, including the fire that bookends the story, all of which are handled in a touching manner. Smith’s novel takes a while to blossom, but really takes off once it does. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff, Verill, Feldman Literary Agents. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“[An] elegant historical novel . . . Lee Smith is an assured and accomplished writer, and her use of Zelda as a subject in Guests on Earth is brilliant . . . This is a carefully researched, utterly charming novel. By the time you finish it, you fall in love with these fascinating lives, too.” —The Washington Post

Guests on Earth is a mesmerizing novel about a time and place where creativity and passion, theory and medicine, fact and fiction, are luminously intertwined.” —BookPage

“Indeed, most of the high spirited, rebellious, outspoken women who populate Guests on Earth would not now be considered insane at all. Smith’s imaginative, layered story illuminates the complexity of their collective plight—to be put in towers until they had no choice but to behave—and rescues them one by one.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“[An] engaging and engrossing novel . . . Smith’s well-developed characters, rich historical detail and easy prose create a novel that some may call her best yet, and which it just may be.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Those who enjoyed Smith’s previous work (e.g., Fair and Tender Ladies; The Last Girls) will certainly appreciate this absorbing book, as will those interested in the history of treating mental illness in the United States and fans of Southern or Appalachian fiction.” —Library Journal

“With Guests on Earth, Lee Smith shines new light on a shadowy, complex subject . . . She offers a broader historical perspective—and with it, a captivating, inimitable voice.” —The Raleigh News and Observer

“Treading the fine line between sanity and insanity, this historical novel imagines the 12 years proceeding the 1948 fire that engulfed a North Carolina mental hospital and killed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s estranged wife, Zelda.” —Ms. Magazine

“Engaging . . . Touching.” —Publishers Weekly

“This is Lee Smith at her powerful best, writing the South she knows through the eyes of a woman who lived it.” —Adriana Trigiani, author of Big Stone Gap and The Shoemaker's Wife

“In Guests on Earth Lee Smith gives evidence again of the grace and insight that distinguish her work. Her characters are realized with singular intensity, the most vivid interior life, and flawless dialogue. Reading Lee Smith ranks among the great pleasures of American fiction.” —Robert Stone, author of Death of the Black-Haired Girl and Dog Soldiers

Kirkus Reviews
Smith (Mrs. Darcy and the Blue Eyed Stranger, 2010, etc.) jumps on the bandwagon of recent interest in Zelda Fitzgerald, bringing to fictional life Asheville's Highland Hospital, where Zelda and eight other patients died in a fire in 1948. Right off the bat, narrator Evalina likens herself to Nick Carroway, asking, "Is any story not the narrator's story?" Perhaps, but while The Great Gatsby dominates Nick's story, Zelda makes only guest cameos in Evalina's narration. Evalina spends her early childhood in New Orleans until her courtesan mother's death. In 1936, after attempting to move her in with his respectable family, her mother's wealthy lover sends adolescent Evalina to Highland Hospital as a combination patient, guest, and ward of Dr. and Mrs. Carroll. The Carrolls are historical figures, Dr. Carroll famed for treating physiological ailments with diet and exercise rather than introspection or analysis, Mrs. Carroll for her skills as a pianist--her most famous student, Nina Simone, has a walk-on here. Evalina soon meets the extremely mercurial Zelda, who treats her as a stand-in for Scotty, and later witnesses the Fitzgeralds lunching unhappily together at Asheville's Grove Park Inn. Evalina also conveniently listens to other characters describe the Fitzgeralds in long-winded detail that adds nothing new. Evalina shows musical talent, and the Carrolls eventually send her to Philadelphia to study at Peabody. She becomes the accompanist/lover of a talented but philandering Italian tenor. After losing him and the baby he didn't want, she returns to Asheville and undergoes shock treatment, newly instituted at the hospital. Ensconced in the halfway house attached to the hospital, Evalina is carrying on two contradictory romances by the time Zelda returns in the late 1940s, a shell of the glamorous woman she seemed a decade earlier. Evalina hints at various possibilities but leaves what caused the fatal fire a mystery. Smith brings to life the world of Highland Hospital, where the line between staff and "guests" often blurs, but Evalina is a mishmash of clichés, while Zelda remains a rehash.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Smith has created a compelling, disturbing but also uplifting narrative inspired by the 1948 fire that swept through Highland Hospital in Asheville, killing nine women, among them Zelda Fitzgerald.”
The Herald Sun

“Treading the fine line between sanity and insanity, this historical novel imagines the 12 years proceeding the 1948 fire that engulfed a North Carolina mental hospital and killed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s estranged wife, Zelda.”
Ms. Magazine

“With this book, Smith will broaden her readership to draw in those fascinated by the Fitzgerald ethos while entertaining her perennial fans with the local lore and down home accents behind the scenes.”
Foreword Reviews

“Perennially best-selling Smith presents an impeccably researched historical novel that reveals the early twentieth century’s antediluvian attitudes toward mental health and women’s independence.”
Booklist

“This is Lee Smith at her powerful best, writing the South she knows through the eyes of a woman who lived it.”
—Adriana Trigiani, author of Big Stone Gap and The Shoemaker’s Wife

The Washington Post
“Smith’s well-developed characters, rich historical detail and easy prose create a novel that some may call her best yet, and which it just may be.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
BookPage
“Well-researched historical detail blends with fiction to create memorable characters in a unique setting during an interesting era. Emily Woo Zeller’s lively narration keeps the listener engaged.”
Library Journal
Booklist
“This is a carefully researched, utterly charming novel. By the time you finish it, you will fall in love with these fascinating lives, too.”
The Washington Post
Sound Commentary
“Delivers on all counts, entrancing readers with a brilliant tapestry that falls inside the confines of historical fiction, yet defies genre with a hypnotic narrative.”
BookPage
Review quotes
“[An] elegant historical novel . . . Lee Smith is an assured and accomplished writer, and her use of Zelda as a subject in Guests on Earth is brilliant . . . This is a carefully researched, utterly charming novel. By the time you finish it, you fall in love with these fascinating lives, too.” —The Washington Post

Guests on Earth is a mesmerizing novel about a time and place where creativity and passion, theory and medicine, fact and fiction, are luminously intertwined.” —BookPage

“Indeed, most of the high spirited, rebellious, outspoken women who populate Guests on Earth would not now be considered insane at all. Smith’s imaginative, layered story illuminates the complexity of their collective plight—to be put in towers until they had no choice but to behave—and rescues them one by one.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“[An] engaging and engrossing novel . . . Smith’s well-developed characters, rich historical detail and easy prose create a novel that some may call her best yet, and which it just may be.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Those who enjoyed Smith’s previous work (e.g., Fair and Tender Ladies; The Last Girls) will certainly appreciate this absorbing book, as will those interested in the history of treating mental illness in the United States and fans of Southern or Appalachian fiction.” —Library Journal

“With Guests on Earth, Lee Smith shines new light on a shadowy, complex subject . . . She offers a broader historical perspective—and with it, a captivating, inimitable voice.” —The Raleigh News and Observer

“Treading the fine line between sanity and insanity, this historical novel imagines the 12 years proceeding the 1948 fire that engulfed a North Carolina mental hospital and killed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s estranged wife, Zelda.” —Ms. Magazine

“Engaging . . . Touching.” —Publishers Weekly

“This is Lee Smith at her powerful best, writing the South she knows through the eyes of a woman who lived it.” —Adriana Trigiani, author of Big Stone Gap and The Shoemaker's Wife

“In Guests on Earth Lee Smith gives evidence again of the grace and insight that distinguish her work. Her characters are realized with singular intensity, the most vivid interior life, and flawless dialogue. Reading Lee Smith ranks among the great pleasures of American fiction.” —Robert Stone, author of Death of the Black-Haired Girl and Dog Soldiers

Library Journal
10/01/2013
It's 1936 in Asheville, NC, when Smith introduces readers to the residents of Highland Hospital, directed by Dr. Robert S. Carroll, known for innovative treatments that include diet, exercise, and activities such as art and gardening but also insulin and electric shock therapies. The novel, which blends true events and fiction, centers on Evalina Touissaint, the orphaned daughter of a New Orleans "courtesan." Evalina shares her experiences and observations of life at Highland and her impressions of her fellow patients, a group that includes none other than Zelda Fitzgerald. Through a variety of circumstances, Evalina is at the hospital on and off for many years, and she is the reader's window into this unique time and place, as events lead up to a terrible fire that kills nine women on a locked floor of the hospital, including Zelda. The cause of the fire is still unknown today. VERDICT Those who enjoyed Smith's previous work (e.g., Fair and Tender Ladies; The Last Girls) will certainly appreciate this absorbing book, as will those interested in the history of treating mental illness in the United States and fans of Southern or Appalachian fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 6/24/13.]—Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616202538
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 10/15/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 147,738
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee Smith is the author of sixteen previous books of fiction, including the bestselling novels Fair and Tender Ladies and The Last Girls, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. Also the recipient of the 1999 Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Her website is www.leesmith.com.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(1)

4 Star

(0)

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(2)

2 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 12, 2014

    Wonderful!

    As usual, Ms. Smith crafted a work of art. She managed to blend history and fiction into a superb, "hard to put down" story. Her word pictures were so vivid, and characters so well-drawn, that I felt I knew them personally and in fact, it was if I were right there with them. Though she has given us a tremendous number of consistently terrific novels, my only complaint about Lee Smith is that she doesn't write even MORE! But then again, she's only human. Nevertheless, I can't wait until her next novel!! So greedy am I. : )

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2013

    Excellent well developed story line

    Well written about a subject (mental illness) that I would not have ordinarily pursued, by the author wove into it a charming story of a young girl who made the most of every situation.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    3.5 Stars Highland Hospital is located in North Carolina and

    3.5 Stars




    Highland Hospital is located in North Carolina and is the famed institute that treated Zelda Fitzgerald. Evalina Toussaint is a young girl who loves her Mom and her hometown of New Orleans, but when her Mom tragically has an affair with the wrong man, Evalina’s world is torn apart. Sent to the institute to receive treatment for her grief, she meets Zelda and finally begins to feel like she is at home again.




    This book states that it is about the famed and mysterious Zelda Fitzgerald, but in reality it is the story of this young woman trying to find a way to survive her grief. Though there is never a true diagnosis for Evalina, readers will feel her pain as though it is their own. The cultural back drop of New Orleans and the Appalachian Mountains is beautiful.  The book starts out slow and has several long moments throughout the book. However, it does provide an insider’s view into the treatment for patients during the beginning of the century.




    Notes:
    This review was written for the My Sister's Books bookstore. 
    This review was originally posted on the Ariesgrl Book Reviews website.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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