Lee’s new memoir, Dimestore will be published in March, 2016 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Click to hear Lee Smith read a portion of The Last Girls.

The Last Girls

Thirty years ago, the girls in an American literature seminar at an idyllic Blue Ridge campus made their own trip down the Mississippi River on a raft, inspired by Huckleberry Finn. Now a tragedy brings them back together for a repeat voyage under very different circumstances on the luxurious steamboat Belle of Natchez. Somebody takes a trip is the oldest plot of all, these English majors learned in college, but the archetypal heroic journey has proved a woefully inadequate plot for tracing these women's life stories, now caught in the painful decisions and realizations of middle age.

This darkly comic novel examines the nature of story itself: How do we ever know what is true? How much does the story depend upon the changing needs of the storyteller? and how is it told or not told, in the case of timid schoolteacher Harriet Holding, who has put her entire life under a bell jar ever since the traumatic events of college, now thrown into a new perspective as the Belle of Natchez makes her way down the Mississippi towards New Orleans.

  • Courtney Gray Ralston struggles to step from the pages of Southern Living for her unlikely sweetheart, not even pictured in the voluminous scrapbooks she has dutifully maintained and lugged on board to share with the others.
  • Catherine Hurt is suddenly suffocating even in her happy third marriage. Her husband Russell's midlife crisis is just wearing her out, as he jogs around and around the Observation Deck monitoring his health, contemplating his death, and fantasizing about TV weather girls.
  • The tale of tragic Baby, Harriet's brilliant and promiscuous roommate, is told in her poems from that other, long-ago voyage.
  • Anna Todd Trethaway is a world-famous romance novelist who escapes the tragedies of her own life through her fiction. She spends hours in her stateroom each day writing The Louisiana Purchase, the latest in her wildly successful Confederacy Series (Tupelo Honey, Rainy Night in Georgia, The Tennessee Stud, The Missouri Compromise...) But has Anna become one of her own creations?
The Last Girls is an often funny yet very serious exploration of the nature of romance, the relationship between life and fiction, the relevance of the past to the present, and of the unexpected course of women's lives.

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