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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Last Girls by Lee Smith~★★★

Author: Lee Smith
Title: The Last Girls
Release Date: October 10th, 2002
Publisher: Highbridge Audio; Abridged Edition, read by Lee Smith
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "On a beautiful June day in 1965, a dozen girls launched their homemade raft on a trip down the Mississippi. Thirty-five years later, four of those 'girls' reunite on the river. This time it's on a luxury steamboat, and when they reach New Orleans, they'll give the river the ashes of a fifth rafter. 
Lee Smith tells a brilliantly perceptive story of how college pals who grew up in an era when they were still called 'girls' have negotiated life as women. Harriet is a hesitant teacher who has never married, while Courtney struggles to escape her Southern Living lifestyle. Catherine is suffocating in her happy third marriage, and Anna is a romance novelist escaping her own tragedies through her fiction. Finally, there is Baby, the girl they came to bury---along with their memories of her rebellions and betrayals. 
The Last Girls is wonderfully revealing of women's lives---of the idea of romance, of the relevance of past to present, of memory and desire. Lee Smith is, as the New York Times put it, 'nothing less than masterly.'"

Taryn's Review: I used to work in national call center a few years ago. I heard accents from all over the nation. Over the three years that I was on the phone with the public, I became very good at identifying what state someone was from without looking at their information, especially in the South. A Virginian does not sound like a Louisianian. West Virginia and Alabama have very different southern accents.

Lee Smith chose to read this book herself and that, I feel, was a mistake. She read the book with the same accent for each character and she didn't seem to vary her dialect or tone from character-to-character. Each character was from a different part of the South, so this really bothered me (more so than the average person I would assume). The more I listened to audio books, the more I appreciated a good actor/actress reading the novel and really putting backbone and substance through voice into the characters they read. I don't mind authors reading works from their own perspectives (like David Sedaris reading David Sedaris), but when you have many main characters, it is for the best that the author doesn't read it. I really wish Smith would have had an actor read the book in this case.

The book itself also never melded its fragments together for me. The cover made the river trip from the women's youth seem like the center story that the book would revolve around, but while listening to the book, it became evident that the youth river trip was just background noise. Smith focused on each of the four women and spent a lot of time going over their time in college as well as their personal lives both as children and as adults . Oddly, Catherine was very absent from most of these college stories until Smith revealed the senior year of college, where it is said that Baby and Catherine roomed together.  Not much else about Catherine's time in school or relationship to the other girls was mentioned.

I think Smith had a good idea and obviously she is strong writer, but it just felt like there was too much information that veered off in the wrong direction. Personally, I found Baby to be a spoiled, selfish young woman who I think I was supposed to feel sympathy for, but I certainly did not. And a chapter of the book was also dedicated to Catherine's husband, Russell, which was was unneeded. The book had 10 cds, and when Smith read on and on about Russell, I felt my mind drifting. That space really could have been used to wrap up some other loose ends or perhaps talk more about Catherine and Baby's relationship.

I'm not necessarily upset that I listened to it, but I'm not thrilled either. At times I was really into the reading and looked forward to hearing what unfolded the next time I went for a drive. Other times I was bored or thinking, "Why do I need to know this?" I was afraid to skip ahead though since I was listening to it and I didn't want to miss any primary plot points. I think if you enjoy Southern fiction, you probably wouldn't mind listening or reading the book. It's not the best, but it's acceptable. I think I might give some of Lee Smith's other works a try, so again, not horrible, not fantastic, just so-so.

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