When she is thirteen years old, Evalina Toussaint, the orphaned child of an exotic dancer in New Orleans, is admitted as a mental patient to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. The year is 1936, and the hospital, under the direction of celebrity psychiatrist Robert S. Carroll, is famous for its up-to-the-minute shock therapies and for Dr. Carroll's revolutionary theory of the benefits of non-introspection.
Evalina finds herself in the midst of a kaleidoscope of characters, including the estranged wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her role as accompanist for all theatricals and programs at the hospital gives her privileged insight into the events that transpire over the twelve years leading up to a tragic 1948 fire - its mystery unsolved to this day - that killed nine women in a locked ward on the top floor, including Zelda.
In Evalina Toussaint, Lee Smith has a created a narrator whose story is one of unstoppable and defiant introspection. At the risk of Dr. Carroll's ire and at all costs, Evalina listens, observes, delves, pursues, accompanies, remembers - and tells us everything. This is her wildly prescient story about a time and a place where creativity and passion, theory and medicine, fact and fiction are luminously intertwined.
©2013 Lee Smith. Recorded by arrangement with Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing Company, Inc. (P)2013 HighBridge Company
I enjoyed this book very much, in no small part because my great grandmother was at Highland during the period of the novel. Lee Smith gives us her usual rich characters with interesting back-stories. The reader is quite good, but some of her mispronunciations makes one wonder if the editor was out for bagels.
Being a live-long western North Carolina resident, the only thing I ever knew about Highland Hospital was that Zelda had died there in a fire - and there is so much more to know. Lee Smith has done the research for me, along with her first hand knowledge of Highland, having had family members who were residents at various times. I don't know when I have enjoyed a book so much. The narrator was terrific in spite of occasional mispronunciations, which could be jarring to a native. But she more than made up for that with her just-right narration of this book.
Somewhere in the middle, good story, wonderful characters
The description of shows performed by patients
Depends on if the story has any old songs
When she described having and losing her baby
Whenever lyrics were used for old classic southern songs, there was a hiccup in the narration. With just a little research, the narrator could have used the actual tune or at least the proper rhythm of the song. Very disappointing! The songs could have been a big part of the story.
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