Lee’s new novel, Guests on Earth will be published in October, 2013 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
Click to hear Lee Smith read a portion of The Last Girls
Click Here for information on Barbara Bates Smith's new one-woman show On Agate Hill. Read the review or check out her schedule.
The Last Girls: Book Discussion Questions
- To write THE LAST GIRLS, Lee Smith revisited a 1966 Mississippi River
rafting adventure she shared with some Hollins College classmates. She
could have written a nonfiction memoir, but chose instead to use the material
fictionally. What advantages did
that give her?
- There are five main characters in the novel-Harriet Holding, Courtney
Gray, Catherine Wilson, Anna Todd, and Baby Ballou, whose ashes the grown
up girls commit to the River at New Orleans. Baby's influences on them
and on this story are profound. Would you characterize those influences
as negative or positive-or both? Why?
- Harriet, Baby's roommate and, in some ways, her disciple, has hung
onto Baby's secrets and betrayals all her life. What effects have those
burdensome legacies had on Harriet's life choices?
- Courtney is a character who has made many compromises in order to
obtain and maintain a life that was the ideal for Southern college girls
in the fifties and sixties. What have those compromises brought about
for her thirty years later? Is there anything more to Courtney than materialism
and an obsession with propriety?
- Catherine, the only daughter of privilege besides Baby, has been less
driven by status and money. As her Southern belle mother comments on page
197, "I always knew you'd be the death of me." What have been
Catherine's motivations and how successful has
she been at what she's chosen-or what has chosen her?
- Anna's life at late middle age is probably the farthest from the expectations
of Southern college girls of the mid 20th century. As she muses on page
276, "’nothing was ever like it was supposed to be, except
in [her]books, where everything was." What functions do romance novels
serve for a reader? How do you respond to Anna's ulterior motives in
regard to the cabin boy she thinks of as “Huckleberry"?
- What about the men-the husbands and lovers-in this novel? Could Anna
make a reasonable romantic hero from composite parts of Jeff, Hawk, Gene,
Charlie, Pete, Kenneth, Lou, and Russell? Can you find an attribute of
the romantic hero in each one?
- There's one unsolved mystery in THE LAST GIRLS. Was Baby's death truly
an accident or was it suicide? There are clues. One is Baby's poem, "The
France," on page 291. Does it make you lean one way or the other?
- Lee Smith has characterized THE LAST GIRLS as "a serious book
What are the "serious" themes of the book? How would you say
they are disguised?
- Lee Smith has also said, "For me-and for most of us on the real
raft, I suspect- it was the only journey that ended as it was supposed
to. Subsequent trips have been harder, scarier. We have been shipwrecked,
we have foundered on hidden shoals, we have lost our running lights’
I can't stick to a traditional plot anymore. Such a plot is more suited
to boys' books anyway." Do you agree with her that linear plots---beginning,
middle, end-are not the plots of most women's lives? What has determined-or