“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.
Lee Smith is the author of fourteen novels, including Fair and Tender Ladies, Oral History, Saving Grace, and Guests on Earth, as well as four collections of short stories, including Me and My Baby View the Eclipse and News of the Spirit. Her novel The Last Girls was a New York Times bestseller as well as a co-winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. A retired professor of English at North Carolina State University, she has received an Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Literature.
“[An] elegant historical novel . . . Lee Smith is an assured and accomplished writer, and her use of Zelda as a subject in Guests on Earth is brilliant . . . This is a carefully researched, utterly charming novel. By the time you finish it, you fall in love with these fascinating lives, too.” —The Washington Post
“Guests on Earth is a mesmerizing novel about a time and place where creativity and passion, theory and medicine, fact and fiction, are luminously intertwined.” —BookPage
“Indeed, most of the high spirited, rebellious, outspoken women who populate Guests on Earth would not now be considered insane at all. Smith’s imaginative, layered story illuminates the complexity of their collective plight—to be put in towers until they had no choice but to behave—and rescues them one by one.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“[An] engaging and engrossing novel . . . Smith’s well-developed characters, rich historical detail and easy prose create a novel that some may call her best yet, and which it just may be.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“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
“With Guests on Earth, Lee Smith shines new light on a shadowy, complex subject . . . She offers a broader historical perspective--and with it, a captivating, inimitable voice.” —The Raleigh News and Observer
“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
“Engaging . . . Touching.” —Publishers Weekly
“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