“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.
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.read more
Lee Smith has once again immersed us into the Southern landscape, this time with the backdrop of historical fiction. The main character, narrator Evalina Toussaint, is sent to a mental hospital, the actual Highland Hospital in Asheville, NC, when she is just 13. Because of her musical talent and personality, she is treated as a near daughter by the hospital administrator and his wife, and becomes a member of the hospital family. The fact that Zelda Fitzgerald was in fact one of the patients there at the time adds a particular interest, but all of the personalities described, whether fictitious or factual, become intriguing and real. Smith always seems very fond of her characters, but this novel is especially poignant for her as well as for us, I imagine, because her own father and son both spent time at this hospital, for which she expresses gratitude.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
No rating provided
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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.