“That whole summer is as clear and as still in my head as the corsage under the glass bell in Mrs. Tate’s parlor. Even now, summers and summers since, I can remember everything. I remember the day summer started.”
So begins Lee Smith’s disarming first novel, written while she was an undergraduate at Hollins College and a winner in 1968 of the Book-of-the-Month Club Writing Fellowship Contest. The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed, set in a small southern town at midcentury, tells the story of nine-year-old Susan, for whom the first bright, carefree, promise-filled days of summer slowly evolve into a time of innocence lost and childhood illusions shattered. Susan’s mother is vain and frivolous, her father loving but distracted, and her sister, several years her senior, is coping with the first stirrings of serious love. Susan’s circle of young friends is joined for the summer by Eugene, the frail, strange nephew of a neighbor. As the months pass, Susan witnesses the disintegration of her parents’ marriage and learns from Eugene the cruelty people sometimes resort to.
Lyrical and fanciful in spite of its dark moments, The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed puts on ample display the remarkable talent that has made Lee Smith one of our most popular writers of fiction.
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