On Agate HillIt is 1872, Agate Hill, North Carolina. On her thirteenth birthday, Molly Petree peeps out the chink of a window from her secret hiding place up in the eaves of a tumbledown old plantation house to survey a world gone wild, all expectations overthrown, all order gone. “I know I am a spitfire and a burden,” she begins her diary. “I do not care. My family is a dead family, and this is not my home, for I am a refugee girl…but evil or good I will write it all down every true thing in black and white upon the page, for evil or good it is my own true life and I WILL have it. I will.”
Carefully she places the diary in her treasured “box of phenomena” which will contain “letters, poems, songs, court records, marbles, rocks, dolls, and a large collection of bones, some human and some not” by the time it is found during a historic renovation project in 2003.
The contents of Molly’s box make up this extraordinary novel which chronicles her passionate, picaresque journey across” the whole curve of the earth” –through love, betrayal, motherhood, a murder trial---and finally back to Agate Hill to end her days under circumstances that even she could never have imagined.
Kirkus Reviews:The story of a self-described "ghost girl" who survives the Civil War devastation that claims her family is told in the North Carolina author's rich, complex 12th novel(after The Last Girls, 2002). Spirited orphan Molly Petree's diary and correspondence describe her childhood at Agate Hill plantation, raised among the large extended family of her Uncle Junius Hall, a well-meaning patriarch too passive to resist tenant farmer's widow Selena Vogell, who installs herself as housekeeper, marries him and emerges triumphant, as Agate Hill's occupants disperse-among them adolescent Molly, claimed as the ward of her late father's best friend and battlefield companion Simon Black.
Molly's student years at highfalutin' Gatewood Academy are revealed through the diaries of its unstable headmistress Mariah Snow and her sensible sister, teacher Agnes Rutherford, who'll accompany Molly on the next leg of her journey: to the one-room Bobcat School in the "Lost Province" of western North Carolina near the Tennessee border, where Molly seeks escape from Simon Black's recurring reappearances by agreeing to marry a "rich boy" she doesn't love. Fate then intervenes in the person of lusty country singer Jacky Jarvis, and, as his first cousin BJ discloses, Molly's blissful union with Jacky endures despite a wrenching succession of stillborn children (their tiny graves "Just a row of rock babies up on the mountain like a little stone wall"), until he is murdered and Molly stands accused of the crime.
Her story ends back on Agate Hill, once again in her diary's words, as she nurses Simon Black during his last days, and finally learns the true nature of his claim on her. An authentic American saga, bittersweet as an Appalachian ballad, peopled with wonderfully vivid characters, so brilliantly constructed we never even notice the quilt-like artfulness of its design.
One of those books you can either roam contentedly around in for days, or devour at once, in a rush of pure pleasure. Take your pick. (Agent: Liz Darhansoff/Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman Literary Agents)
ON AGATE HILL
Algonquin (384 pp.)
Sep. 19, 2006
You can order the new CD by Alice Gerrard, Gail Gillespie, and Sharon Sandomirsky: "The Road to Agate Hill." Alice is the composer of the song, "Agate Hill" that inspired Lee while she was writing her new novel, "On Agate Hill." The idea for the CD came about during some of Lee's readings when Alice and friends accompanied the readings with songs and tunes, many of which were mentioned in the book. The CD is available through the store on Alice's website.
Listen to the song "Agate Hill" by Alice Gerrard on her album Pieces of my Heart.
More Reviews:Writer finds the words for grief
Reconstruction shapes girl's Gothic diary
Atlanta Journal Constitution
"Smith plays with authorial antecedents and literary references from Charlotte Bronte, Faulkner and Milton, and there are echoes of Dickens and Henry James. . . . In On Agate Hill, author Smith is in full command of her talent for strong stories and evocative characters, and her always fine, shining prose is extra-pearly here. . . . Lee Smith has never written a lousy book; she may never have written a lousy sentence. And so, to declare this novel her best yet--well, that's saying something. On Agate Hill is more ambitious than Family Linen and more exquisitely crafted than Oral History. . . . Smith is such a beautiful writer, tough and full of grace, that soon you are lost in the half-light of Molly's haunted landscape, listening to the voices of the ghosts, wishing they'd let you stay longer."
Lee Smith mines the South's rich past
News & Observer
"On Agate Hill is a masterpiece and may come to be considered a more important novel than even Smith's wonderful Fair and Tender Ladies. . . . It is going to have to prove its greatness in a season when an exceptional number of historical novels are appearing. Even Thomas Pynchon and Charles Frazier are weighing in this fall with novels set in the 19th century. "On Agate Hill" will not merely hold its own with the best of them but also will serve as a model for future writers of historical fiction. . . . Somebody should give a copy of this book to a member of the Nobel committee."
Smith shares 'a piece of her heart'
The Chapel Hill News & Advocate
Lee Smith fills historic novel with character
The Wilmington Star News
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