On Agate Hill

On Agate Hill

by Lee Smith

It's through these treasured mementos that we meet Molly Petree.Raised in those ruins and orphaned by the Civil War, Molly is a refugee who has no interest in self-pity.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Historical
  • Rating: 3.77
  • Pages: 367
  • Publish Date: September 19th 2006 by A Shannon Ravenel Book
  • Isbn10: 1565124529
  • Isbn13: 9781565124523

What People Think about "On Agate Hill"

Molly as a 14 year old writes, "I want to live so hard and love so much I will use myself all the way up like a candle, it seems to me like this is the point of it all, not Heaven The rest of the book details how she lives her life up like a candle.

**SPOILER!!!** Through diary enteries, county papers, and court reports, we follow Molly as her life makes one dynamic change after another (her Uncle's mistress tries to take over, she befriends a sick little girl, family members die off or leave one by one, etc.). There wasn't a lot of likable characters in the novel, and the murder of Molly's husband is never fully explained, leaving the reader rather frustrated (I went online to see if anyone could make sense of it, and I found a forum where many readers felt this way.

I can't say that I love this book quite as much as my first novel by Lee Smith -- Fair and Tender Ladies -- but those are some huge shoes to fill. At first I thought the use of these fictional documents demonstrated her ability to weave together a story in an inventive and difficult way as Molly moves from Agate Hill -- a small Southern plantation literally and figuratively mired in the mess of the Civil War and, subsequently, Reconstruction-- to the North Carolina mountains. The story felt like two separate novels. I love Appalachian literature, so it didn't make sense that the portion of Molly's story that took place in the mountains should irritate me as much as it did. It is supposed to feel different and uncomfortable, and Molly's childhood at Agate Hill is supposed to feel like another lifetime. Nothing is the same, and in a lot of ways I don't feel like the same person as I was 15 years ago. When I say that I mean that I feel like two people -- sort of the way Molly felt to me like one person at Agate Hill and another in the mountains.

Having been disappointed by my last read of Lee Smith, a friend and fellow Smith reader was quick to get this book into my hands to restore my pleasure in Smith's writing. My favorites are in the ballads series, and I am delighted to have thoroughly enjoyed and added this book to my list of Lee Smith's great reads.

This was a fairly good book, though I felt the different places and people in them felt a little disconnected. It spans the main character's life, and when she moves places, she is surrounded my completely new people, and each stage in her life is narrated by a different person, but it still didn't quite mesh together for me.

On Agate Hill, by Lee Smith is a historical piece that follows the life of the orphaned Molly Petree. The first stage is Mollys life on the Agate Hill Plantation, owned by her Uncle Junius. The second stage of the story takes place after Mollys Uncle Junius dies. The last stage of the story brings Molly back to Agate Hill and her guardian, Simon Black. Molly spends her last years in the place she knew as a young girl and in the company of Simons former servant and her own cousin, who was born shortly before Molly left Agate Hill to attend the Gatewood Academy. Molly lost many family members through death prior to the beginning of the novel and even more before she went off to school. Death however was not the only form of loss for Molly. In regards to the theme of living your life to your own satisfaction: as the reader learns more about Molly, they see that she often has opinions and tastes that tend to contradict what polite society would find acceptable.

There is a theme of "love stories" throughout the book as Molly writes to Mary White throughout her life. One of the best lines of the entire book written in her old age is this: Love lives not in places nor even bodies, but in the spaces between them.

Lee Smith's books are always beautiful and tragic.

Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing--and selling, for a nickel apiece--stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated "hollers." Since 1968, she has published eleven novels, as well as three collections of short stories, and has received many writing awards. "I didn't know any writers," Smith says, "but I grew up in the midst of people just talking and talking and talking and telling these stories. I mean, my mother could make a story out of anything; she'd go to the grocery store and come home with a story." Smith describes herself as a "deeply weird" child.