Synopses & Reviews
On a beautiful June day in 1965, a dozen girls classmates at a picturesque Blue Ridge women's college launched their homemade raft (inspired by Huck Finn's) on a trip down the Mississippi. "It's Girls A-Go-Go Down the Mississippi" read the headline in the Paducah, Kentucky, paper.
Thirty-five years later, four of those "girls" reunite to cruise the river again. This time it's on the luxury steamboat, The Belle of Natchez, and there's no publicity. This time, when they reach New Orleans, they'll give the river the ashes of a fifth rafter-beautiful Margaret ("Baby") Ballou.
Revered for her powerful female characters, here Lee Smith tells a brilliantly authoritative story of how college pals who grew up in an era when they were still called "girls" have negotiated life as "women." Harriet Holding is a hesitant teacher who has never married (she can't explain why, even to herself). Courtney Gray struggles to step away from her Southern Living-style life. Catherine Wilson, a sculptor, is suffocating in her happy third marriage. Anna Todd is a world-famous romance novelist escaping her own tragedies through her fiction. And finally there is Baby, the girl they come to bury-along with their memories of her rebellions and betrayals.
The Last Girls is wonderful reading. It's also wonderfully revealing of women's lives of the idea of romance, of the relevance of past to present, of memory and desire.
"The Big Chill meets Huckleberry Finn in a moving novel inspired by a real-life episode... a tender, generous, graceful novel." Publishers
Weekly, starred review
"With graceful, even brilliant shifts from past to present, Smith builds
this absolutely inviting, completely compelling novel around the idea that
'whatever you're like in your youth, you're only more so with age.'" Booklist, starred review
"A bittersweet comedy with a fine sharp edge." Kirkus, starred review
"Baby is nowhere near as interesting as the other characters....The numerous flashbacks devoted to her accumulate a heavy, insidery weight that the reader can't fully participate in. Yes, those must have been some heady days, we agree, but we get this sense more through coercion than true feeling....Smith...is perhaps best known for her nuanced portraits of gritty, often dirt-poor Appalachian women. It's a pleasure to see her directing her talents to a different class of women with a different set of concerns." Starah Towers, New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Lee Smith is the author of many books, including the novels Fair and Tender Ladies and Saving Grace and the story collections Me and My Baby View the Eclipse and News of the Spirit, both New York Times Notable Books. Her awards include the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award and the 1999 Academy Award for fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She grew up in Grundy, Virginia, graduated from Hollins University, and lives now in Hillsborough, North Carolina.