Books by Lee Smith

Lee Smith's last novel, THE LAST GIRLS, was a bestseller.


DIMESTORE by Lee Smith
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: March 22, 2016

"A warm, poignant memoir from a reliably smooth voice."
Award-winning novelist Smith (Guests on Earth, 2013, etc.) recalls growing up in a small Virginia coal town and the indelible influence that background had on her adult life.Read full book review >
GUESTS ON EARTH by Lee Smith
Released: Oct. 15, 2013

"Smith brings to life the world of Highland Hospital, where the line between staff and 'guests' often blurs, but Evalina is a mishmash of clichés, while Zelda remains a rehash."
Smith (Mrs. Darcy and the Blue Eyed Stranger, 2010, etc.) jumps on the bandwagon of recent interest in Zelda Fitzgerald, bringing to fictional life Asheville's Highland Hospital, where Zelda and eight other patients died in a fire in 1948. Read full book review >
MRS. DARCY AND THE BLUE-EYED STRANGER by Lee Smith
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 23, 2010

"Always colorful, sometimes predictable and at its best profoundly moving."
Prolific novelist Smith (On Agate Hill, 2006, etc.) offers 14 stories, most circling issues of class in the contemporary South. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Jan. 12, 2010

"Smith could have smoothed his narrative into a more coherent story, but he offers a somewhat provocative look at an endlessly troubled region."
A view of what the "Arab street" has to say about current affairs—the only problem being, as the author notes, there's not any such thing. Read full book review >
ON AGATE HILL by Lee Smith
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 19, 2006

"One of those books you can either roam contentedly around in for days, or devour at once, in a rush of pure pleasure. Take your pick."
The story of a self-described "ghost girl" who survives the Civil War devastation that claims her family is told in the North Carolina author's rich, complex 12th novel (after The Last Girls, 2002). Read full book review >
THE LAST GIRLS by Lee Smith
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 27, 2002

"A bittersweet comedy with a fine sharp edge."
The contrasting virtues of Mary McCarthy's The Group and Eudora Welty's elegiac family reunion novel Losing Battles are neatly conjoined in this entertaining 11th from the popular North Carolina author (The Christmas Letters, 1996, etc.). Read full book review >
NEWS OF THE SPIRIT by Lee Smith
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 22, 1997

All six of the stories in Smith's third collection (Cakewalk, 1981; Me and My Baby View the Eclipse, 1990) have been previously published, so serious students of southern fiction will find much that's familiar here, though none the less enjoyable. Smith writes affectionately of the small social distinctions between working-class and middle-class southerners. Often at the center of her stories is a woman with odd notions or airs, of which she must be disabused, and her chatty narrators embrace a populace of lovable eccentrics. Smith's clearest aesthetic statement here surfaces in ``The Happy Memories Club,'' which concerns an old-age home resident's feisty refusal to render her past through rose- colored glasses—the way everyone else in her writing group does. ``The Bubba Stories'' also focuses on the creation of fiction. But in this case it's a reverse parable: A scholarship student at a fancy girl's college invents a more glamorous life for herself, yet doesn't discover her voice as a writer until she turns to what she knows best—her ordinary family. The prissy, spinsterish narrator of ``Blue Wedding'' returns to her small-town home to settle her father's estate and finds herself loosening up with some iced tea and vodka. The long novella, ``Live Bottomless,'' offers a young girl's perspective on her parents' troubled marriage. After her father leaves his skittish wife for a local artist, the narrator must live with her fundamentalist relatives. But her parents give it another chance on a month-long trip to Key West, where the filming of a Hollywood movie seems to bring just the right level of romance back into their marriage. The equally long ``News of the Spirit'' unites a long-estranged brother and sister—he a druggie and drop-out; she a bit odd herself and stalled in the unmarried state. Their wild reunion frees her from her long-held guilt concerning her troubled brother. As always, lively, salty, and inviting. (Author tour) Read full book review >
THE CHRISTMAS LETTERS by Lee Smith
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 31, 1996

With her typical easy wit and down-home charm, Smith (Saving Grace, 1995, etc.) fashions an epistolary novella from that most infamous of genres, the annual family letter that often arrives in Christmas cards. The three generations of Christmas letters in Smith's genial narrative span 50 years, and evolve as dramatically as their means of reproduction, from crude carbon copies to mimeograph to Xeroxes- -from the personal to the word-processed. Each letter records the significant events of the year before, beginning in 1944, when Birdie Pickett writes home to West Virginia about her marriage, her first child, and the loneliness she feels in North Carolina, where she lives with her in-laws while her new husband serves in the South Pacific. Later letters chronicle his return home, his effort to run the family farm, the destruction of the farm in a flood, and the opening of a dime store in town. Birdie's terse epistles always end with a recipe, such as ``Mrs. Goodwillie's Bible Cake,'' with its ingredients taken from Scripture. In 1967, Birdie's daughter Mary resumes the family narrative and documents her own transition from trailer-park bride to suburban matron, with four kids, a fancy house, and membership in the local country club. All of this falls apart, and in 1993, Mary writes the first ``real'' Christmas letter, one that doesn't hide the truth; her narrative includes her feelings about (among other things) her recent messy divorce, her brother's tragic return from Vietnam, her husband's history of infidelity, and her oldest son's homosexuality. A single letter from Mary's daughter Melanie (in the present) includes her own efforts to research family history, which is what the past has now become—fodder for her planned novel. A clever idea that finds its own suitable length: Smith's short novel leaves so much unsaid, as befits the semi-public epistolary genre, but manages to reflect change in humble matters, even in something so simple as a recipe. A delight. (Author tour) Read full book review >
SAVING GRACE by Lee Smith
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 24, 1995

Smith's 11th work of fiction (The Devil's Dream, 1992, etc.) is a straightforward, amiable narrative of Christian faith and redemption—a cautionary tale of innocence, disbelief, debauchery, and witness. Florida Grace Shepherd's wide-eyed confession begins on the fringes of Christianity. Her itinerant preacher father is an illiterate follower of that old-time religion who demonstrates his faith by handling snakes, drinking poison, and listening to the voices that guide him. When the family sets up in Scrabble Creek, North Carolina, young Grace secretly enjoys some of the modern amenities of 1950's life, even though her Daddy continues to live by ``signs and wonders'' in a world wholly determined by Divine Providence. The family's austere life is just one more test of faith, shattered only by an older son's dissent: he insists on taking his young brother to a hospital. One by one, Grace's siblings also break away when into their lives slithers Lamar, who can ``sniff out the bad'' in the 14-year-old girl. Even her father, meanwhile, for all his self-righteousness and sense of election, is rumored to backslide on the road, and his churchly antics bring down the law. And Lamar seems to have enjoyed all the Shepherd women, including Grace's long-suffering mother, whose torment leads to suicide. Eventually, Grace and her Daddy hit the road, but no one now supports the notorious preacher and he takes up with booze and floozies. Grace marries Travis Word, a kind and honest preacher more than twice her age, but their loveless marriage results in her adultery and decline; grandmother at 38, she finally reconciles herself to her long dormant faith while wandering through a Christian-themed miniature-golf course. Though Virgil Shepherd descends from Hazel Motes, there's none of Flannery O'Connor's biting humor here: Smith treats her characters with more sympathy than theological vigor, which makes for a heartrending book. Read full book review >
THE DEVIL'S DREAM by Lee Smith
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 1, 1992

A thoroughly entertaining eighth novel from Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies, 1988, etc.) traces the roots of an extended, country-western ``singing'' family from 1830's hollow to contemporary Nashville. The story opens with plans for a country Christmas family reunion at the Opreyland Hotel. Katie Cocker, superstar of country music, is gathering together her famous relatives—from Tampa Rainette, nearly 100 years old and one of the original Grassy Branch Girls, to Rose Annie, whose hit song ``Subdivision Wife'' is based on her own life, leaving her adoring husband for her no-good, rockabilly, childhood sweetheart. (Now she's serving time for his murder.) In the story behind the story, this ``singing'' family- -Baileys, most of them—gets its start in Cold Spring Holler in 1833 when music-loving Kate Malone marries Moses Bailey, a self- styled preacher who thinks the fiddle is the devil's plaything. From that union comes Zeke Bailey, a generous-hearted simpleton, lover of hard work, church meeting, and fiddle-music, who inherits the land on which the Grassy Branch, a twisty little creek, flows. Zeke's offspring, R.C. (actually Zeke's wife's illegitimate son) and Durwood, carry on the musical tradition, each marrying talented women who start the Grassy Branch Girls. The next generation, which includes Rosie, Johnny and Katie, experiment briefly with the Grassy Branch Quartet, a gospel group, before their lives take them away from the hollow on separate (musical) paths. In letting each of her characters tell his story in his own voice, Smith creates a vividly labyrinthine world of family ties in which music is always a part. Clearly she is paying homage to a place and people who have contributed so much to the American music scene. And in so doing she traces the roots and variations of country music, from primitive Baptist hymns and fiddle-playing, to gospel, rockabilly, and contemporary country western. A real treat- -and an education. Read full book review >