Read On Agate Hill Online

Authors: Lee Smith

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Literary, #Gardening, #Techniques, #Reference, #Vegetables

On Agate Hill

BOOK: On Agate Hill

Praise for
On Agate Hill

“Brings a dead world blazingly to life. . . . A book that seeks to rejuvenate the rapt early reader in us all. . . . [Lee Smith] is a subtly intrepid and challenging storyteller.”

The Washington Post Book World

“The willful Molly is no hot-house flower, and her determination to live her own life—for better or worse—is the driving force of this powerful novel.”

—USA Today

“Memorable. . . . An independent and impetuous woman whose loves lead her into Dickensian tragedy.”


“On Agate Hill
, as lyrical and haunting as an Appalachian ballad, casts a powerful charm.”

The Boston Globe

“One of those big, sweeping, epic American coming-of-age stories that puts you in Molly’s shoes and keeps you riveted there, through good times and bad.”


“To declare this novel her best yet—well, that’s saying something. . . . Smith is such a beautiful writer, tough and full of grace, that soon you are lost in the half-light of Molly’s haunted landscape, listening to the voices of the ghosts, wishing they’d let you stay longer.”

—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“On Agate Hill
is a masterpiece and may come to be considered a more important novel than even Smith’s wonderful
Fair and Tender Ladies
. . . . Will serve as a model for future writers of historical fiction.”

—The Raleigh News & Observer

“With lyric intensity . . . inventive storytelling . . . Lee Smith imagines the life of an orphan girl growing up in the post–Civil War South.”

—The New York Times Book Review

“A perfect book for the late summer—no matter where your hammock hangs. . . . With pitch-perfect tone and texture, the veteran Southern storyteller imagines the life of a young girl orphaned by the Civil War.”

—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Captivating moments and colorful characters. Its many narrators—young Molly, her school’s headmistress, her kind teacher, an uneducated friend and a much older Molly—all speak with Smith’s voice, gently disguised.”

—The Miami Herald

“Smith is absolutely clear . . . on one thing: the importance of living passionately, with all one’s heart—whatever the consequences.”

—The Christian Science Monitor

“A joy to read. . . . Molly Petree is unforgettable, on par with Kaye Gibbons’ Ellen Foster and others, a true Southern heroine in true Southern tradition.”

The Grand Rapids Press

“Arresting. . . . [Smith] gives readers a convincing portrait of the post–Civil War south and captures the desolation and loss, the eerie, wild space throbbing with possibility that comes on the heels of destruction, when old ways have been lost and before new rules have taken their place.”

—The Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Molly is a wonderfully evocative character who could pierce the heart of the toughest reader. . . . Lee Smith’s heroine rivals Scarlett O’Hara.”

—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Smith offers genius; she knows and writes so well Southern voices and seems to almost channel lives past.”

The State
(Columbia, SC)

“The publication of
On Agate Hill
is more than happy—it is very special. It is one of [Smith’s] major books, perhaps her best since
Fair and Tender Ladies
.. . . A great love story.”

The Charlotte Observer

“Lee Smith is a natural-born storyteller. No, that description doesn’t do justice. . . . Lee Smith is a whopper of a storyteller whose tales involve, enmesh, enthrall readers from the opening sentence to the final page.”

—The Roanoke Times

“Masterful. . . . [Smith] draws in the reader instantly. She also can create and sustain a mood like few other writers.”

The Virginian-Pilot

On Agate Hill
is a great example of how a tale with traditional Appalachian tones can also work as a modern, psychological, shifting, organic novel. . . . Lee Smith’s creation is an inventive original that classes it with Barbara Kingsolver’s
The Poisonwood Bible.”

—Asheville Citizen-Times
On Agate Hill



The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed

Something in the Wind

Fancy Strut

Black Mountain Breakdown

Oral History

Family Linen

Fair and Tender Ladies

The Devil’s Dream

Saving Grace

The Christmas Letters

The Last Girls

Story Collections


Me and My Baby View the Eclipse

News of the Spirit

On Agate Hill



Published by
Post Office Box 2225
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27515-2225

a division of
225 Varick Street
New York, New York 10014

© 2006 by Lee Smith.

First paperback edition, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, August 2007.

Originally published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 2006.

All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

Published simultaneously in Canada by Thomas Allen & Son Limited.

Design by Anne Winslow.

This is a work of fiction. While, as in all fiction, the literary perceptions and insights are based on experience, all names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


Smith, Lee, 1944–

On Agate Hill: a novel / Lee Smith.—1st ed.

    p. cm.

“A Shannon Ravenel book.”

ISBN-13: 978-1-56512-452-3 (HC)

1. North Carolina—Fiction. I. Title.

    PS3569.M5376O5 2006

    813'.54—dc22                                                         2006045859

ISBN-13: 978-1-56512-577-3 (PB)

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Paperback Edition

For my son


December 23, 1969–October 26, 2003


Letter from Tuscany Miller


Notes from Tuscany


Further Notes from Tuscany




Final Notes from Tuscany


30-B Peachtree Court Apts.
1900 Court Blvd.
Atlanta, GA 30039

September 19, 2006

Dr. Thomas Ferrell, Director

Documentary Studies Program

Institute for the Study of the South

Carolina State University

266 College Ave

Charlotte, NC 28225

Dear Dr. Ferrell:

Remember me? Well, I know you have not heard from me in a long time because I dropped out and all (that was so slack), but now I do want to finish and I hope you will let me back into the program and give me another extension on my thesis considering what I have been up to

I am not going to do “Beauty Shop Culture in the South: Big Hair and Community” after all, despite my background in pageants

I want to turn in this box of old stuff instead, see what you think! I believe you will be as excited as I am

Also I am truly a changed person, from reading it. More on that later

But first I guess I need to tell you how I got a hold of all this, and some things about my family, which is not normal, though we used to be

The family was me Tuscany Miller (actually I picked the name Tuscany myself, in high school), my older brother Padgett, and my little sister Louise, the brain. My mother was an elementary school principal while my father owned and ran his own furniture store The Aesthetic in our hometown of Lookout, NC. Our grandparents live across the street. So you see what I mean by normal

Even that name The Aesthetic did not give a clue. We were totally surprised when Daddy came home from the store one spring day bringing a young man named Michael Oliver with a spiky haircut and a black leather jacket. “I want you to meet Michael, a wonderful person,” Daddy said, standing in the front door holding hands with him. Mama put down her purse, she had just come in from school. Luckily Padgett was at baseball practice. Louise was doing her homework and I was watching Jeopardy on TV, I will never forget it

Daddy went on to say that Michael Oliver was a designer from Chicago and that they had first met in 1999 at the Furniture Market in Hickory, where Daddy went every year, and that their friendship had continued and ripened to the point where they must be together

“I can’t believe you used the word ripened,” said Louise who has always been kind of weird

As for me I did not say one thing but put the TV on mute

“I have heard so much about all of you,” Michael Oliver said

Later my best friend Courtney would say that he is hot

“Oh for God’s sake, Wayne,” Mama said walking out of the room

Things got even worse after that. First Daddy left and went to live with Michael in Asheville, where anything goes. Mama quit her job and started running the furniture store, which has been a big success. She buys the more traditional lines, like Bassett. I won Miss Confederacy then went off to college so was not there when Daddy came back to visit one day and announced that he was now becoming a woman so he could marry Michael

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