I really admire my friend, Lee Smith, for undertaking this novel. It centers around Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, a mental hospital with a fascinating history. The fact that both Lee Smith's father and one of her sons was a patient there must have made it difficult, all-consuming, and shattering to tackle in writing. In 1912, Dr. Robert S, Carroll was presiding over what was called Dr Carrioll's Sanitarium, a private, high-end TB hospital when he decided to change the name to Highland Hospital. In 1939 Dr. Carroll signed the facilities over to the Duke University Department of Psychiatry. On March 10, 1948, a fire consumed one of the buildings on the campus. Nine women were killed, including Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of the famous author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The title of the novel comes from a passage in a letter Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter, "The insane are always mere guests on earth . . . " In 1990 Duke sold the campus, and various building are now used in various ways. Lee Smith's novel starts in 1936 when her protagonist and narrator, Evalina Toussaint, an orphan, is admitted to Highland Hospital. It covers the next twelve years that she is there, including the famous fire. "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.” - Book Page. “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. “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.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books, a 2014 paperback edition of a 2013 release. 348 pages with a Note from the Author and Questions for Discussion. Trade paperback.