Lee Smith On Her New Novel Guests on Earth 

(Algonquin Books, 2013)


We are celebrating the release of Guests on Earth, the latest novel by Lee Smith. Often referred to as the Queen of Appalachian Literature, Smith has written a work that Booklist has described as "an impeccably researched historical novel that reveals the early twentieth century's antediluvian attitudes towards mental health and women's independence."

Guests on Earth is set in 1936, when thirteen-year-old orphan Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. There, at the mental institution on the hill above the town, she is given a first-person vantage point into the hospital's cutting-edge treatments for nervous conditions and mental addictions. As Touissant is nurtured by fellow patient Zelda Fitzgerald, she witnesses a series of events that culminates in a tragic fire that leaves nine women dead, including Zelda. 

The title of the novel is taken from a passage in a letter that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter, Scottie, in 1940: "The insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read." In her trademark luminous prose, Smith asks, "are we not all 'mere guests' upon this whirling earth?"

To read Smith's essay about writing Guests on Earth, click here.