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: Book Discussion Questions

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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?

  6. 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"?

  7. 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?

  8. 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 Trip to
    France," on page 291. Does it make you lean one way or the other?

  9. Lee Smith has characterized THE LAST GIRLS as "a serious book in disguise."
    What are the "serious" themes of the book? How would you say they are disguised?

  10. 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 shaped-your life?