Guests on Earth
October 2013 Indie Next List
— Jackie Willey, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
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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. 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.
Praise For Guests on Earth…
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“Evalina’s story is intriguing, and Zeller’s lively narration keeps the novel engaging.”
“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
“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.”
“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
“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.”
“Zeller manages to make each [character] distinct and memorable. . . . [Her] confiding tone will draw listeners in to the unfolding story.”
“Emily Woo Zeller does a wonderful job narrating. . . . Her excellent reading of the character of Evalina reveals the depth of her character.”
HighBridge Company, 9781622312368, 680pp.
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
About 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.