“This is a haunting story about the treatment of mental illness in the early 1900s. Focusing on Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where Zelda Fitzgerald died in the fire that destroyed the hospital in 1948, the story is told through the voice of Evalina Toussaint who was sent to the hospital as a young child. Evalina's narrative is an example of the brutal early treatment of mental illness, when some patients became subjects for medical experiments. Any fan of the Fitzgeralds, the medical profession, or the history of medicine in the early 1900s will enjoy this book.”
— Jackie Willey, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
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.
About the Author
Lee Smith is the author of fifteen previous books of fiction- three collections of short stories and a dozen novels, including the bestsellers "Fair and Tender Ladies" and "The Last Girls", winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. The recipient of the 1999 Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
“Those who enjoyed Smith’s previous work (e.g., Fair and Tender Ladies; The Last Girls) will certainly appreciate this absorbing book, as will those interested in the history of treating mental illness in the United States and fans of Southern or Appalachian fiction.” —Library Journal
“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.” —Ms. Magazine
“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.” —Foreword Reviews
“Engaging . . . Touching.” —Publishers Weekly
“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.” —Booklist
“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
“In Guests on Earth Lee Smith gives evidence again of the grace and insight that distinguish her work. Her characters are realized with singular intensity, the most vivid interior life, and flawless dialogue. Reading Lee Smith ranks among the great pleasures of American fiction.” —Robert Stone, author of Death of the Black-Haired Girl and Dog Soldiers