Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

guests on earthLee Smith, a best-selling writer, is one of our most beloved North Carolina authors.  This is, in itself, a good reason to read Guests on Earth!  However, there are many other reasons.  Many local readers will appreciate the North Carolina setting; much of the story takes place in Asheville, including some scenes in the Grove Park Inn.  If you are interested in the story of Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of the famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald, you’ll be intrigued to learn that she is a character in the novel.  When I read a historical novel, I always check to see if the author has done her research, and Lee Smith’s note on her sources shows her thoroughness in studying about the hospital’s history and the biographies of Zelda and the other characters based on real people.  And – I haven’t yet mentioned the interesting life of the narrator, the fictional Evalina Toussaint!

In the 1930’s, thirteen-year-old Evalina, too troubled to eat, ends up as a patient in Asheville’s Highland Hospital for the mentally ill.  The hospital’s treatments include a healthy regime of good diet, exercise, gardening, music, and dancing.  Evalina flourishes in this environment, learning to play the piano so well that she will be able to make a living as an accompanist.  She meets Zelda Fitzgerald, who is also a patient, and they become involved in the hospital’s musical productions, with Zelda as the choreographer.

When Evalina is a young woman, she falls in love and travels far from Highland Hospital, but she is back in Asheville in 1948 when Zelda dies in a fire at the hospital.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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