Review

The Last Girls: A Novel

by Lee Smith

Dateline: Paducah, Kentucky July 24, 1966
---Sixteen college seniors begin a journey down the Mississippi River: homage to "Huckleberry Finn" and a farewell to their girlhood. They built their own raft, kept journals and had the time of their young lives. Among the raft riders was Lee Smith, who is now an award-winning novelist.

Smith says, "Since it's always easier for me to tell the truth in fiction, THE LAST GIRLS is a novel. Huck was an American Odysseus off on an archetypal journey … the oldest plot of all. According to the archetype, the traveler learns something about himself (not herself [historically]) along the way" --- and from this premise emerges the story of Smith's new heroines.

Dateline: Memphis, Tennessee May 7, 1999
---The five women who comprise the cast of LAST GIRLS gather at the Peabody Hotel in preparation for another trip on the Mississippi River. But this time, it will be in a luxurious riverboat and with a different mission. One of the original rafters has died and the small group has decided to scatter her ashes upon the water.

Now in their fifties, the women understand, that this river ride will be another "coming of age" experience for each of them. Harriet Holding, spinster and teacher, narrates the story. With her on this tragic-comic trip is Anna Todd, a romance writer with a worldwide reputation; Catherine Wilson, a sculptress, married to her third husband; Courtney Gray, socialite; and of course there is "Baby", their now dead comrade whose ashes they will scatter upon the mighty Mississippi.

Lee Smith is a "Southern storyteller" in the tradition of William Faulkner and Mark Twain. Her gifts are capturing nuance to enhance her characters and writing lyrical prose, while at the same time, allowing the reader "in" for a close glimpse of their lives. They are serious and eccentric, they are sassy and romantic, they are 'southern belles' and they are women who have charted their own lives and are still learning to live with their decisions.

Of the LAST GIRLS Smith sums up her mission this way, "I'm trying to examine the idea of romance, the relevance of past to present, the themes of memory an desire." Both fans and newcomers to Smith's work will be delighted with her accomplishments.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 22, 2011

The Last Girls: A Novel
by Lee Smith

  • Publication Date: September 30, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345464958
  • ISBN-13: 9780345464958