Award-winning author Lee Smith is back with her 13th novel, Guests on Earth, which follows heroine Evalina Toussaint from her childhood in Depression-era New Orleans to her stay in Highland Hospital in North Carolina (where one fellow patient is Zelda Fitzgerald) following the death of her mother. Our reviewer gives the book high praise, proclaiming that it "delivers on all counts, entrancing readers with a brilliant tapestry that falls inside the confines of historical fiction, yet defies genre with a hypnotic narrative." Read the full review here.
We were curious about the books Smith has been reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites:
A huge cloud of migrating butterflies makes a surprise landing on an Appalachian mountaintop, forever changing many lives. . . . It’s hard to write a strongly thematic novel like this without letting the meaning overtake the characters, yet Barbara Kingsolver succeeds brilliantly, with fully developed characters, wonderful dialogue and close observation of daily life—right down to daytime TV shows and home cooking! The serious ecological implications of this fine novel do not obscure the pleasures of getting to know the main character and her family—and watching her come of age as a woman fulfilling her own possibilities. Flight Behavior is both suspenseful and very moving—a great read.
THE REASON I JUMP
By Naoki Higashida
This extraordinary little book is the inner voice of a 13-year-old Japanese boy with autism, born in 1992 and still in junior high school when the book was first published. Here he interviews himself, asking simple questions such as “Why do you line up your toys so obsessively?” “Why won’t you make eye contact?”—all the things I have naturally wondered about in dealing with my own beloved autistic granddaughter.
Naoki graduated from high school in 2011 and lives in Japan, where he is an advocate, the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, and a motivational speaker even though spoken communication is very difficult for him even now, according to his translators KA Yoshida and David Mitchell, parents of an autistic son themselves. David Mitchell is the author of many novels including Cloud Atlas. In his introduction he says, “The three characters used for the word ‘autism’ in Japanese signify ‘self,’ ‘shut,’ and ‘illness.’ My imagination converts these characters into a prisoner locked up and forgotten inside a solitary confinement cell waiting for someone, anyone, waiting to realize he or she is in there. The Reason I Jump knocks out a brick in the wall.” Amen—it certainly does.
Jill McCorkle’s great gift for voice is on display in this lively novel which moves from speaker to speaker in an old folks’ home where romance and laughter abound . . . along with a gathering mystery which makes it a page-turner by the end. By turns hilarious, moving, surprising, and thought-provoking, Life After Life will resonate with every reader as it has with me, I’ll bet—since we are all dealing with just these situations in our own lives, whether it’s taking care of our parents or thinking ahead ourselves. But let me assure you that there is nothing depressing about this wonderful novel. Written in language which mixes poetry with down-home grit, Life After Life sings and soars above its subject with originality and grace.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Guests on Earth or any of Smith's recommended books?