Books Set in the South, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romantic Fiction, Smith-Lee

#587 On Agate Hill by Lee Smith

 On Agate Hill by Lee Smith On Agate Hill by Lee Smith

Molly doesn’t remember life before Agate Hill and so it seems as if her life started there, even though it didn’t. The house is full of ghosts, that is, people who have died and moved on. Molly once had a father, but he died in the war. She once had a mother, but she died. She once had a brother, but he died. She once had an aunt, who also died, and several other cousins, but they died. In the end, it was just Molly, Uncle Junius, and Little Junius. There were also a few assorted servants at the house.

People came and went at Agate Hill, more often going than coming. People came into Molly’s life, whom she loved, but they would disappear just as easily. At one point even Uncle Junius leaves Molly, but she doesn’t stay at Agate Hill for long after that. She is taken to a school for girls, paid for all from her benefactor. Molly does not know this man, but he knew her father and her mother.

Molly goes to school and becomes quite educated, despite what anyone may have thought of her or her reputation. It also turns out that the school isn’t the best place for Molly, or for many other girls either. Molly moves on to become a teacher up in the Appalachian mountains. There life is hard and men certainly come Molly’s way, but none entrance her until Jacky Jarvis shows up.

Molly ties herself to Jacky. Instead of becoming a prim and proper lady, Molly lives in the mountains knowing the hardships of mountain life. People come into her life that give her almost undying loyalty, but all good things come to an end. Molly knows heartache and despair, but ultimately, she leaves the mountains that have sheltered her for so long and returns to Agate Hill to find it something of what it once was and perhaps still just as full of ghosts, if not more.

What I liked

I really like Lee Smith. She captures life in the South quite well. Lee put a lot of research into this book, which isn’t something she normally does. It’s quite impressive that she did so well with historical fiction in writing this book.

What I didn’t like

I’m not entirely a fan of books written in letters. Another book I have read of Lee’s, Fairy and Tender Ladies, was likewise written entirely in letters. The book was still very good, but it was still written in letters.

What’s the problem with this you ask?

Generally, in a book, we have an omniscient point of view. We see what people are thinking. We see the actions of the characters when they’re alone. We know all. A book written in letters, on the other hand, is entirely different. We don’t see everything. We don’t get to know the whole character. In this book, I learned a lot about Molly, but I didn’t learn a lot about her thought process. Sure, she had a diary, but come on…we all censor ourselves when we’re writing in our diaries or writing a letter. We could flat-out be lying in our diary. Who among us has not seen Gone Girl? That woman’s diary was just one big lie.

If a character is writing a letter or writing in their diary they’re not giving us the whole picture. What are they really thinking? Did they really say that? It’s entirely possible that every single word put down on paper is a lie…and that could apply to just about anything. Just because you wrote it down doesn’t mean it’s true.


I feel kind of sorry for Molly.

Weigh In

Do feel sad for people who seem to have one misfortune after the other?

Are letter-writers in books liars?


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