Guests on Earth

Guests on Earth

by Lee Smith


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Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

"The insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald

Evalina Toussaint, orphaned child of an exotic dancer in New Orleans, is just thirteen when she is admitted to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. The year is 1936, and the mental hospital is under the direction of the celebrated psychiatrist Dr. Robert S. Carroll, whose innovative treatment for nervous disorders and addictions is based upon fresh air, diet, exercise, gardening, art, dance, music, theater, and therapies of the day such as rest cures, freeze wraps, and insulin shock. Talented Evalina is soon taken under the wing of the doctor’s wife, a famous concert pianist, and eventually becomes the accompanist for all musical programs at the hospital, including the many dances and theatricals choreographed by longtime patient Zelda Fitzgerald. Evalina’s role gives her privileged access to the lives and secrets of other patients and staff swept into a cascading series of events leading up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward on the top floor. She offers a solution for the still-unsolved mystery of that fire, as well as her own ideas about the very thin line between sanity and insanity; her opinion of the psychiatric treatment of women and girls who failed to fit into prevailing male ideals; and her insights into the resonance between art and madness. A writer at the height of her craft, Lee Smith has created, through her masterful melding of fiction and fact, a mesmerizing novel about a world apart—a time and a place where creativity and passion, theory and medicine, fact and fiction, tragedy and transformation, are luminously intertwined.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616203801
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 05/13/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 247,792
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About 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

What People are Saying About This

author of "Big Stone Gap" and "The Shoemaker&rsquo Adriana Trigiani

“The American South has produced some of the greatest writers in history. Seated at the head of that table is Lee Smith, who writes with ferocity and detail, tenderness and specificity, about life in the mountains of southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee. In Guests on Earth, something altogether new and different, Smith . . . solves the mystery of the death of Zelda Fitzgerald through the prism of a beguiling narrator, Evalina, who bore witness to the tragedy and lived to tell her version of the events. This is Lee Smith at her powerful best.”

author of "Death of the Black-Haired Girl" and "Do Robert Stone

“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.”

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Guests on Earth: A Novel 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
PierresFamily More than 1 year ago
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. : )
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
Lee Smith presents an interesting story based on Zelda Fitzgerald's sojourn and death in Asheville's Highland Mental Hospital. The story centers on mental illness and the treatment for this illness in the 1940's and 1950's. The novel follows a gifted young woman through her interaction with Zelda and through life in the beautiful and rugged Asheville, NC. The side trips into mountain life and the various characters of New Orleans and Asheville depict an enjoyable story. Lee Smith's writing makes the reader feel the cold winter and hear the sad mountain songs. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
Ariesgrl More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story began strong but then seemed to scatter mid story, it became too confusing with all the characters.
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