In partnership with the Town of Davison's ReadDavidson and the Davidson College Department of English, we present a night with Lee Smith, author of Guests on Earth.
Guests on Earth is set at Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, N.C., during the years 1936-1948, the year of the terrible fire in which Zelda Fitzgerald perished along with eight other women patients in a locked ward on the top floor. Her body was identified only by her charred ballet slipper---for the brilliant Zelda was still a talented dancer and choreographer as well as a writer and a visual artist.
In this novel I offer a solution for the unsolved mystery of that fire, along with a group of characters both imagined and real, and a series of events leading up to the tragedy. My narrator is a younger patient named Evalina Toussaint, daughter of a New Orleans exotic dancer. Evalina is a talented pianist who connects to Zelda on many levels as she plays accompaniment for the many concerts, theatricals, and dances constantly being held at Highland Hospital.
As Evalina tells us at the beginning of this novel, “I bring a certain insight and new information to that horrific event which changed all our lives forever, those of us living there upon that mountain at that time. This is not my story, then, in the sense that Mr. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was not Nick Carraway’s story, either---yet Nick Carraway is the narrator, is he not? And is any story not always the narrator’s story, in the end?”