Guests on Earth

Lee Smith, Author
Lee Smith. Algonquin, $25.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61620-253-8
Compact Disc - 680 pages - 978-1-62231-236-8
Open Ebook - 349 pages - 978-1-61620-346-7
Paperback - 348 pages - 978-1-61620-380-1
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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.)
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