Category Archives: Mountains

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Annis Ward Jackson. Blind Malice. North Carolina: Annis Ward Jackson, 2009.

blindIt’s every adult child’s nightmare: an elderly parent, isolated and confused, mishandles his financial affairs and winds up deeply in debt.  Rachel Myers never expected that to happen to her father Paul.  Yes, Paul was blind, but with the help of a housekeeper and a longtime farm hand and friend, Isaac Starling, he managed his mountain farm.  Rachel, who lives in Arizona, felt some pull to come home, but she knew she would never find a job in the mountains as good as the managerial job that she has in Flagstaff.

Only when Paul dies and Rachel comes back to North Carolina to bury him does she find out how bad Paul’s situation had become.  Rachel learns from Isaac that her father fired his longtime housekeeper soon after a local banker, Ed McKinney, became a frequent visitor to the farm.  And the farm itself has changed–the cattle have been sold and the house and surrounding yard have had expensive improvements that surprise Rachel.  But the biggest surprise is that Paul Myers died in debt to the tune of $230,000.  How did this happen–and does it have anything to do with the surveyor’s stakes that dot the nearby hill?  As Rachel looks into her father’s financial affairs, time and again she is led back to Ed McKinney and his puzzling influence on her father.

This is the first book in a  series of ten novels by Ms. Jackson, all set along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Watch this site for summaries of later books in the series.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Jackson, Annis Ward, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Monique Miller. Redemption Lake. New York: Kensington Books, 2012.

Redemption LakeAnd it was all relative when she thought about it; a person’s perception was truly their reality.

Marriage is a two-way street, and it takes plenty of effort and patience to resolve disputes and stave off conflict. Problems can erupt from a single source and branch off to create additional complications. Often, it’s tough to definitively pinpoint who is right and who is wrong. Redemption Lake covers three couples struggling to support their marriages. The spouses here have been pushed so far they can barely manage to talk to each other without contempt or anger, let alone hear what the other person is saying.

Readers of Miller’s work will recognize Phillip and Shelby Tomlinson, characters from her first novel, Secret Sisterhood. In Secret Sisterhood, Shelby and Phillip confronted their marital difficulties. After attending a marriage counseling retreat and helping with the couples’ ministry, Phillip has been tasked with leading a week-long retreat at a mountain resort for three couples, and Shelby has come along to help. Phillip is worried that he isn’t skilled enough to facilitate effective communication between the couples and guide them through their problems to a successful resolution. Based on the general profiles of each couple, this isn’t going to be an easy week for anyone.

Charlotte Knight has been collecting proof of her husband Xavier’s infidelities meticulously. She knows, in secret, that Xavier visits a number of diverse sources to stray, from the Internet to a neighbor down the street. The news of her positive STD test was the final piece of evidence that pushed her over the edge. Beryl Highgate is fed up with her lazy husband Travis. He promises to find a job and pull his weight, but he never delivers. She’s exhausted from taking care of their children, their finances, and him. Something has to change. Beryl can’t take his excuses any longer. Pastor George Jones was surprised and embarrassed to learn of his wife Nina’s hidden gambling problem. Recently, he’s found out that her addiction has affected not only their finances, but also those of his church in Greenville, North Carolina. He has to find a remedy before her gambling destroys both of their lives.

Phillip knows that there are always three sides to any story: “his side, her side, and the truth.” Novelist Monique Miller structured Redemption Lake so that readers will see the stories of the three couples from all angles. The novel is organized with brief prologue documenting the surface grievances of each couple. The remainder is largely broken up in chapters that rotate between the three husbands and Phillip, followed by the three wives and Shelby. Miller concludes with “the truth” as seen through Phillip’s eyes, observing the end of the retreat and the final outcomes among the couples. Miller doesn’t gloss over her characters and write a neat, happy ending for every couple. She sticks closer to the side of realism, where sometimes things work out but sometimes things are too far gone to fix.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under Coastal Plain, Miller, Monique, Mountains, Pitt, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

Lights, Camera, Novel: Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

Cold MountainNorth Carolina has been a popular setting for movies and television shows, yet that setting is most often fictitious. Of the 600 movies and shows nominally sited in North Carolina between 1980 and 2002, 95 percent were actually filmed outside of the state. Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Cold Mountain was one of them. Charles Frazier’s novel depicts Confederate deserter W.P. Inman’s long and arduous journey from a hospital in Raleigh to his home near Cold Mountain and his sweetheart, the genteel Ada Monroe from Charleston, who struggles to survive on her own following the death of her father. British director Anthony Minghella scouted locations over a period of five years before deciding to film the adaptation in Romania. Filming in North Carolina would have been a boon to state tourism. When the novel was released in 1997, it created a small increase in tourism. Local businesses and state officials knew that filming here would both make jobs and increase tourism.

Romania was a more attractive choice to Minghella because the rural landscape is much more intact than in North Carolina, where elements of modern life, like telephone poles and paved roads, are present, and logging has altered the area’s appearance. Minghella also noted that there were too few period buildings around Asheville and its environs. By contrast, Minghella could more easily manipulate the Romanian countryside to look like Civil War era North Carolina. The majority of the film was shot in Romania, though a few locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia were used.

The real Cold Mountain at its highest point is a daunting 6,030 feet. The mountain is located within the Pisgah National Forest. Asheville’s tourism site advises that only experienced hikers should dare to take on 11-mile hike, which has no trail markers. Visitors can view the mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Inman, Frazier’s protagonist is based on relatives–chiefly his great-great-uncle, but also his great-grandfather. Frazier retrieved information about Inman’s service from the North Carolina State Archives, whose records state that Inman deserted twice, although conflicting records throw doubt on the second desertion. Inman’s neck injury sustained during the Battle of the Crater and his death at the hands of the Home Guard are verified facts, represented in the novel and the movie adaptation.

Overall, the movie, featuring Hollywood stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renée Zellweger, is faithful to the book in terms of plot, though there are differences in mood. The romance between Ada and Inman and the violence (specifically the brutality of the Home Guard) are accentuated on-screen. Most of the characters are appropriately scruffy and disheveled, given the tough conditions, but Charles McGrath of the New York Times notes that Kidman’s Ada Monroe remains improbably radiant throughout the film.

Treatment of race and slavery drew some critical remarks. Both the book and movie’s portrayal of the Battle of the Crater downplayed the important presence of black soldiers on the Union side. Brendan Wolfe made a counterpoint during a critique of the first chapter of Kevin Lenin’s Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder. Wolfe is not troubled by how the novel and the film skirt around these tense issues since the focus of the story is not strict historical accuracy or a panoramic view of the war. Cold Mountain is the story of a disillusioned man on an epic trek home that parallels The Odyssey. But race and slavery are difficult topics to broach, and the representation of the American South throughout film history is varied.

 

The clip above from Movie Clips shows Jude Law as Inman in the beginning of the film resting in the trenches and looking at a photo of Ada shortly before the Union soldiers blow up a mine beneath the Confederate trench. After the fuse is lit, there’s a grand and dramatic cinematic explosion.

Minghella’s Cold Mountain was recognized with over 70 awards following its release in 2003. Renée Zellweger won Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards, and the film was nominated for Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song twice:  for T-Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello’s The Scarlet Tide and Sting’s You Will Be My Ain True Love. For those interested in the music of the film and Appalachian folk songs, look at this interview of Charles Frazier in the Journal of Southern Religion. Cold Mountain was the seventh film directed by director-producer-screenwriter-actor Minghella who died in 2008.  The movie is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog, as is the novel.  The original blog post on Frazier’s novel is available here.

Sources consulted here: Augusta Chronicle, Book Browse, Chicago Times (two different articles), Encyclopedia Virginia, Explore Asheville, History Extra (of BBC History Magazine), Journal of Southern Religion, Los Angeles Times, Movie Clips, New York Times, Prologue Magazine (of NARA), USA Today, Wikipedia (Anthony Minghella, Cold Mountain [film], Cold Mountain [novel], Cold Mountain [North Carolina])

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2003, Frazier, Charles, Haywood, Historical, Mountains

Valerie Joan Connors. In Her Keeping. Memphis, TN: Bell Bridge Books, 2013.

In Her KeepingBeing a mother is Sylvia Holt’s primary goal in life. She’s desperate to have children. Sylvia isn’t solely concentrated on her desire to be a mom.  No, Sylvia is an organized thinker who has a life plan mapped out neatly. Along the way to her maternal objective, Sylvia has crafted a full professional life in Atlanta. She is a trained CPA and owns a small yet successful practice specializing in personal tax returns and small business consulting, where she met her husband of eight years, Jonathan. A client first, Jonathan hired Sylvia before his family business started booming. Once Jonathan’s textile business expanded, he decided to partner with a larger firm with more corporate expertise. Jonathan and Sylvia initiated a personal relationship though and got married, which brought Sylvia closer to her dream of a beautiful home and family.

But Sylvia is two years behind schedule. By thirty-five she had intended to be raising her children and working primarily from home. At thirty-seven, she is childless and has struggled to carry her pregnancies to term. Sylvia has researched all options from In Vitro Fertilization to fertility drugs. Meanwhile, Jonathan spends the majority of his time in Hong Kong on business. After her fifth miscarriage, Sylvia’s hope of being a mother is fading. Worse, her faith in her marriage is tested after she discovers an instance of Jonathan’s infidelity. Not to say she isn’t angry, but Sylvia isn’t ready to admit defeat. Definitely not at thirty-seven when it seems too late to start over. She and Jonathan consider adoption. However, it becomes clear that Sylvia might be forced to embrace a fresh start, whether she likes it or not. And that might not be such a bad thing. She strays from her plan and winds up in her vacation home in the mountains of North Carolina without a spouse, without a child, and without a job.

Soon Sylvia discovers Tiger Hills, a sanctuary dedicated to large cats that borders her property. She meets the owner, Ethan Montgomery, and she learns more about the underworld of breeding tigers in captivity and selling tiger parts for illegal profit. Unwittingly, Ethan’s mission captivates Sylvia and she quickly plays an active and integral role with the sanctuary. There are several bumps and near disasters for the budding nonprofit, and plenty of intrigue that somehow manages to keep Jonathan in her life. However, Sylvia realizes that she still might be able to attain her former dreams. In fact, straying from her preordained path might just be the trick to bring her closer. In Her Keeping is Atlanta-based writer Valerie Joan Connors’ second work and it’s a slim novel, verging on novella. Readers will likely zip through the story and enjoy its unconventional plot line. According to a blog post on Connors’ website, she was inspired to write the story after a visit to Tiger World, in Rockwell, North Carolina.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Connors, Valerie Joan, McDowell, Mountains

Phyllis Whitney. Star Flight. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1993.

In the midst of Asheville’s heyday in the 1930s, silver screen idols Victoria Frazer and Roger Brandt signed on to co-star in what was sure to be a wildly successful film, Blue Ridge Cowboy. During production, an attraction developed between the two stars. Unfortunately Brandt was already married. The affair was kept hushed for appearances. Things got messier though, when Frazer became pregnant. Her illegitimate daughter was handed off quietly to another family in California. However, when it was clear that Brandt had no intention of divorcing his wife, Camilla, Victoria committed suicide, supposedly drowning herself in Lake Lure. Her body was never recovered and Roger Brandt’s career was ruined when fans learned of the tragedy. After Victoria’s death, Brandt moved to Lake Lure in semi-seclusion, and forced Camilla to come along with him.

Lauren Castle has lived in the shadow of these legends. Her mother was Frazer and Brandt’s illicit child. Although Lauren’s mother never displayed any interest in finding out more about her parents, Lauren collected old magazines and photos of her grandmother in secret. As a child, she was mesmerized by Victoria and Roger’s scandal. For the most part, Lauren has kept her true parentage under wraps. Her husband, Jim, a documentary filmmaker was one of the few to know her family history. He was enthused to discover Lauren’s background, so much that he was eventually inspired to make a documentary on Roger Brandt, an interest that ultimately led to his death. Lauren refused to go with him while he worked on the documentary, and she instead remained behind in California. Early into the project, Jim was killed accidentally when a large beam fell on him during filming.

Even after Jim’s death, Lauren has little interest in venturing to North Carolina until she receives a cryptic note claiming that Jim’s death was quite intentional. When she arrives in Lake Lure, Lauren hides behind her identity as Jim Castle’s wife. Victoria was born in Asheville and her remaining family live around Lake Lure. Lauren meets Victoria’s siblings, Gretchen, an innkeeper and healer, and Ty, a mountain man, as well as Roger and Camilla Brandt and their children and grandchildren. She also encounters Gordon Heath, an old friend of Jim’s, with whom she had a short-lived tryst eleven years ago. By hiding her identity, Lauren learns some surprising details from Brandt family members. Soon she is inadvertently investigating the unresolved mysteries behind Jim’s death and Victoria’s suicide. Many contradictory accounts of Victoria’s character surface, some highly unflattering. Although Lauren feels a greater connection and allegiance to her deceased grandmother than her living grandfather, she starts to wonder if her facts are wrong. Who was Victoria Frazer – innocent victim or vindictive siren?

There’s a lot going on in Star Flight. Novelist Phyllis Whitney packed in two intriguing mysteries at once, fictional Old Hollywood stars, tangled family relationships, romance, a bit of the supernatural, and some surprising facts about kudzu. A prolific author, Whitney wrote the novel in 1993, and it was one of her last books before her death in 2008 at the age of 104. Whitney’s research into the North Carolina mountains is evident, and Star Flight promises readers plenty of suspense.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1993, Mountains, Mystery, Romance/Relationship, Rutherford, Whitney, Phyllis A.

Terrell T. Garren. The Secret of War. Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Co., 2004.

With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War upon us, many libraries, including this one, have digitized diaries, letters, and other documents that bring the realities of the war–for both soldiers and civilians–to light in a way that our school textbooks did not.  We now can know more about what drew men to fight for one side or the other, how they experienced the routines of military life, and how they felt about what they saw and did in battle.  Life on the home front also can come alive in these documents, showing us that the war changed the lives of people who never left their communities.

Terrell Garren covers this subject matter using fiction–fiction based on the experiences of his great grandparents.  Joseph Youngblood’s military service took him from Henderson County to battlefields across the  South and as far as a Union hospital in Indianapolis.  Delia Russell stayed on her family’s farm, but the war came to her in a devastating way.  Joseph and Delia’s stories are at the heart of the novel, but they are surrounded by a community of people–good and bad–and better known historical figures whose actions altered the lives of Mr. Garren’s ancestors. Mr. Garren does a good job of portraying the mixture of political allegiances in the western part of this state, the chaos at the end of the war, and the way that actions from those war years could reverberate through the decades.

The Secret of War is the fruit of many years of research.  Readers who are drawn to historical topics will be delighted by the historical photographs that Mr. Garren has included and by the index of names, places, events, and military units at the end of the book.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

Interested in the Civil War? Click here to read today’s entry for Wilson Library’s The Civil War Day by Day blog.

 

 

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2004, Garren, Terrell T., Henderson, Historical, Mountains

Jennifer Estep. Midnight Frost. New York: Kensington Publishing, 2013.

Midnight FrostGwen Frost can’t stop having nightmares. They’re eerily realistic and they all end the same way, with dreamy Logan Quinn, Gwen’s (almost) boyfriend, stabbing her in the chest. Since Jennifer Estep’s last Mythos Academy installment, Logan and Gwen’s developing relationship has been brought to a screeching halt following Gwen’s arrest and trial for the crime of releasing Loki from his imprisonment. Now Gwen has no idea about Logan’s whereabouts. And his absence is weighing heavily on her, along with the increased attention from the rest of the student body. Students don’t just point and stare – they’ve created a phone app to track Gwen’s every move.

She might be Nike’s Champion, selected by the Goddess herself, yet Gwen has her doubts. She isn’t strong or fast like the other students of Mythos Academy who have warrior lineages. Students descend from Vikings or Amazons, or even Spartans. Gwen  is just a Gypsy, albeit a Gypsy with the mysterious skill of psychometry, a magical trait that allows her to learn about people or objects simply through touching them.

And the Reapers want her dead.

During a botched attempt to poison Gwen in the Library of Antiquities, librarian Nickamedes is poisoned instead. Professor Metis works what magic she can to keep Nickamedes alive, but it’s up to Gwen and her friends to seek the antidote to the deadly Serket sap. Their trek leads them to the Denver branch of the Mythos Academy. A rare flower, Chloris ambrosia, grows in the Eir Ruins near the school and contains the antidote to cure Nickamedes’ poisoning. Despite an early threat en route to Denver, the journey feels easy, a little too easy. Sure the Reapers want to kill Gwen. But why are they luring her all the way to Denver?

Midnight Frost is the fifth book in novelist Jennifer Estep’s Mythos Academy series. In this volume, readers will discover a few more details about Gwen’s father, Tyr Forseti, plus some unsavory information about her paternal relatives. There is a map of the school’s Library of Antiquities in the front of the book and a few brief indices at the back of the book on the Warriors and the Magic, the Mythos Academy, the Students, the Adults, and the Gods and the Monsters to get readers entrenched in Gwen’s world. Estep keeps her characters relatable. She merges the supernatural with the everyday; characters possess extraordinary powers yet exhibit normal teenaged impulses too. Estep also blends many strands of mythology. What other book could readers pick up that combines elements of Norse, Egyptian and Greek mythology, and feature a cheeky talking sword?

Young adult readers ages 13 and up will enjoy this mythological urban fantasy series.

If you’re new to this series, start by reading our first entry on Estep’s Mythos Academy. Or, check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Buncombe, Children & Young Adults, Estep, Jennifer, Mountains, Novels in Series, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Sharyn McCrumb. King’s Mountain. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013.

kingsSharyn McCrumb is a descendant of the Overmountain Men, the 18th century backcountry fighters who turned the tide of the Revolutionary War by their defeat of British forces and Tory sympathizers at King’s Mountain. One of those Overmountain Men, John Sevier, narrates much of the novel, and readers see the events leading up to the battle, the fight, and its aftermath through his eyes.

Sevier, and other historical figures such as Isaac Shelby and Col. William Campbell, come to life through McCrumb’s description and dialog.  Readers get a good sense of what motivated Sevier to settle where he did, the dangers of moving the the west side of the mountains, and why the threats from British army major Patrick Ferguson prompted Sevier, Shelby, and their kin to act.  The battle and its human cost are well portrayed, and readers will feel interest in both the historical figures who exploits they already know of and the purely fictional characters whose stories round out the narrative.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Historical, McCrumb, Sharyn, Mountains

Ronald Malfi. Cradle Lake. Aurora, IL: Medallion Press, 2013.

Cradle LakeBuzzards won’t stop lurking around Alan Hammerstun’s property. Once Alan spotted the first few, more and more of the creatures started appearing, perching on his rooftop like hunched “gargoyles” and stalking around his lawn. The buzzards aren’t Alan’s only concern. Since he and his wife, Heather, moved in, strange vines have covered the house. Vines that bleed dark purple ooze and grow back right after Alan cuts them down. Despite the tension bubbling between them, Alan and Heather have quite a bit of patience to continue living in such a nightmarish space.

The Hammerstun couple and their golden retriever, Jerry Lee, only recently moved into the house, located in the mountains of fictional Groom County, North Carolina. Alan was surprised to hear that his Uncle Phillip left the house to him. They had little meaningful contact and Alan hadn’t visited the property since he was a kid. He and Heather lived in New York City. Alan was a native and a college professor in his early thirties. Heather, entering her mid-thirties, relocated to NYC after growing up in the Midwest and worked in an art gallery.

As of late, Heather and Alan had been trying to start a family with little success. Heather’s first miscarriage occurred early in the pregnancy. The experience was unsettling, but the Hammerstuns still felt hopeful. But Heather’s second miscarriage came slightly later in the pregnancy and was a much more traumatic experience. After their ordeal and subsequent attempts to conceive, Heather fell into a deep depression. She quit her job and her vacant, dangerous behavior began to worry Alan. So when the news of his unexpected inheritance reached him, Alan decided a change of scenery might help Heather heal and restore their relationship.

Soon after the move, Alan visits the lake on his property. He learns of its mysterious healing powers, but is cautioned by a friendly neighbor that sometimes the lake doesn’t always work its magical powers for everyone. Alan pursues information about the lake and the strange symbols carved on the stones lining the path to the lake. He finds a gruesome back-story and a warning from George YoungCalfRibs, a Cherokee with a prophetic gift. YoungCalfRibs advises Alan to leave his new home – but to burn it to the ground before he departs.  Meanwhile, Alan and Heather are growing further apart. Heather’s depression shows no improvement and Alan’s stomach ulcer, borne of stress, worsens. The allure of the lake starts to override Alan’s better judgment. Its miracles are easier to see than the possible strings attached.

Readers who don’t normally add much horror to their to-read lists shouldn’t pass by Cradle Lake. Novelist Ronald Malfi’s story is well-written and filled with strong, creepy visuals. The aforementioned buzzards and vines, in addition to Alan’s increasingly intense nightmares, are tangible and chilling. Alan’s growing paranoia and sense of being followed builds up slowly. The simmering tension already present between the Hammerstuns escalates after their move. Malfi does a nice job of prolonging those feelings until they boil over at the very conclusion.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Horror, Malfi, Ronald, Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Lee Smith. Guests on Earth. New York: Algonquin Books, 2013.

Guests on EarthEvalina Toussaint is the narrator of many stories. From page one she insists her reminisces of Zelda Fitzgerald are the primary focus of this story. But Lee Smith’s Guests on Earth isn’t a novel about Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s a novel that Zelda Fitzgerald happens to appear in. As Evalina concedes, “Is any story not always the narrator’s story, in the end?” The infamous Zelda imbues Smith’s work of fiction with color and historical context, but she’s a glittering gem in Evalina’s kaleidoscopic world. A detached and detailed narrator, Evalina holds the kaleidoscope and watches all characters scatter and shift around her.

Evalina was born the daughter of an exotic dancer named Louise. She is devoted to her mother. They live in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Louise gains the affections of a Mr. Arthur Graves, a wealthy cotton broker, who dotes on her and Evalina. When Louise becomes pregnant, Mr. Graves furnishes a house outside of the Quarter, in a more respectable suburb. But the relationship sours after a sickly baby arrives and quickly dies. Distraught, Louise commits suicide. The repentant Mr. Graves takes the now orphaned Evalina into his home, Bellefleur, with predictably bad results. After her short-lived stint at Bellefleur, Evalina is shipped off to Highland Hospital in Asheville, partially because she refuses to eat and partially, as the novel suggests, at the urging of Mr. Graves’ wife.

Despite being uprooted again, Evalina acclimates without much trouble. The head doctor’s wife, Grace Potter Carroll, befriends Evalina. Mrs. Carroll heard word of Evalina’s unpolished musical talent before her arrival and offers Evalina piano lessons. Dr. Carroll believes that patients benefit from structure, good nutrition, and plenty of exercise. He orchestrates a schedule of constant activity for the Highland residents. Between the art classes and the hikes and the patient-staged theatricals, Highland feels like an extended summer camp to watch after the mentally ill.

Zelda is one of the many patients traipsing around Highland, but Smith renders her with a radiant energy, distinct from the rest. Evalina learns Zelda’s fickle nature straight away, how she can be friendly one instant and then cruel the next. After their art class, Zelda invites Evalina to make paper dolls and then rips them to shreds. Evalina observes how Zelda never looks the same twice and she notes that Zelda’s face was always shifting. Appropriately, Zelda plays Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary during a ballet at the hospital – one of her many productions at Highland.

Eventually, after some time there, Evalina, like many of the characters, moves on from Highland. She is accepted into the Peabody Institute to study music. Even though Evalina demonstrates immense talent, she prefers to play as an accompanist rather than a soloist. After several years in the real world, Evalina suffers another breakdown that sends her straight back to Highland. Things have changed. New doctors preside over the hospital with different philosophies. None of the old patients remain. Zelda is gone (but not for long).

Yet Highland still feels like home to Evalina. The security of its structure gives Evalina comfort since her childhood was spent in an unconventional environment, due to her mother’s employment. And her mother’s suicide shattered and displaced Evalina during her formative years. Evalina observes that the distinction between mentally sound and mentally unsound is tenuous at best; a line that she and other patients play jump rope with. While Evalina collects stories from the new and incoming residents, she is reticent to share own with others. Smith, in fact, provides many of patients’ stories secondhand, but does not cover much of the ugly reality in them firsthand. As one of the doctors discusses with Evalina, patients only stay at Highland for a brief moment, an excerpt from their entire life. With such a limited glimpse of a person, it is difficult to put a whole life in context. Lee Smith’s Guests on Earth portrays fabricated glimpses of a flamboyant historical figure, infused by the perspective and life story of a fictional and fascinating narrator.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Buncombe, Historical, Mountains, Smith, Lee