Guests on Earth

Guests on Earth

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by Lee Smith, Emily Woo Zeller
     
 

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When she is thirteen years old, Evalina Toussaint, the orphaned child of an exotic dancer in New Orleans, is admitted as a mental patient to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. The year is 1936, and the hospital, under the direction of celebrity psychiatrist Robert S. Carroll, is famous for its up-to-the-minute shock therapies and for Dr.

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Overview

When she is thirteen years old, Evalina Toussaint, the orphaned child of an exotic dancer in New Orleans, is admitted as a mental patient to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. The year is 1936, and the hospital, under the direction of celebrity psychiatrist Robert S. Carroll, is famous for its up-to-the-minute shock therapies and for Dr. Carroll’s revolutionary theory of the benefits of nonintrospection.

Evalina finds herself in the midst of a kaleidoscope of characters, including the estranged wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her role as accompanist for all theatricals and programs at the hospital gives her privileged insight into the events that transpire over the twelve years leading up to a tragic 1948 fire—its mystery unsolved to this day—that killed nine women in a locked ward on the top floor, including Zelda.

In Evalina Toussaint, Lee Smith has a created a narrator whose story is one of unstoppable and defiant introspection. At the risk of Dr. Carroll’s ire and at all costs, Evalina listens, observes, delves, pursues, accompanies, remembers—and tells us everything. This is her wildly prescient story about a time and a place where creativity and passion, theory and medicine, fact and fiction are luminously intertwined.

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Editorial Reviews

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

Library Journal - Audio
03/15/2014
Evalina Toussaint is 13 years old in 1936 when her mother commits suicide and her mother's wealthy lover sends her to a mental institution. Highland Hospital is famous for its progressive and often unorthodox treatment of the mentally ill. Evalina enjoys the musical and artistic programs the hospital includes in its therapy, and eventually she becomes a surrogate daughter to Highland's most famous patient, Zelda Fitzgerald. Smith (On Agate Hill) uses Evalina's story to offer insight into and historical perspective on the treatment of the mentally ill and the social position of women in the first half of the 20th century. 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. VERDICT Recommended for public libraries and fans of historical fiction. ["Those who enjoyed Smith's previous work 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," read the review of the Algonquin hc, LJ 10/1/13.]—Cynthia Jensen, Gladys Harrington Lib., Plano, TX
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

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:
9781622312368
Publisher:
HighBridge Company
Publication date:
10/15/2013
Edition description:
Unabridged; 11.25 hours
Pages:
680
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Born in the small coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia, Lee Smith began writing stories at the age of nine and selling them for a nickel apiece. Since then, she has written seventeen works of fiction, including Fair and Tender Ladies, Oral History, and, most recently, Guests on Earth. She has received many awards, including the North Carolina Award for Literature and an Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; her novel The Last Girls was a New York Times bestseller as well as winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, with her husband, the writer Hal Crowther. Visit her at www.leesmith.com.

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