Published by Algonquin Books on 5/13/2014
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Following her mother’s death, thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is sent to Highland Hospital in North Carolina, the same mental institution where Zelda Fitzgerald and eight other women died in an intentionally set fire in 1948. With an inventive blend of history and fiction, Lee Smith follows Evalina through the 1930’s and 40’s, as she experiences the treatments prescribed by Dr. Carroll, who runs the hospital, as well as the imagined events leading up to the tragedy that took so many lives.
This is not a story about Zelda Fitzgerald – she spends her time along the periphery of the novel, becoming more of a fascination for Evalina than the true friends she develops during her stay. Instead, Guests on Earth revolves around the numerous other voices that filled the hallways of Highland Hospital; the important, unsung heroes Sarah Kennedy mentioned in yesterday’s guest post. Though not all of them existed as real people, they represent the broad spectrum of lives that were impacted by the Carrolls and the time they spent at the hospital.
Smith’s well-practiced ability to develop both setting and story shines from every page of Guests on Earth, a novel as enchanting as the rolling hills of North Carolina.