Smith's novel tells the story of a girl growing up in the south. What starts out as a simple nine-year old's telling of how she spent her summer becomes a thought provoking piece as it not only shows the issues someone her age would face, but also causes the reader to question how a nine year old might deal with the difficult issue of rape and how one might respond to someone devoid of any morals. In Smith's novel, the main character "grows up" during the summer, bouting with a family falling apart, and discovering for the first time what evil is, through the character of Eugene. What Smith creates is a disturbing coming of age novel that stands the test of time as we see the main character forced to grow up, learning things faster than she ought because of the little support she receives from her detorraiting family. Smith causes the reader to question how we underestimate what children see and in doing that, they may suffer. The main character describes her family in a fictitious light using a fairy tale facade to represent "the queen" and "the princess" of her household and is forced to use nature as a substitute family. What reads initially as a simple story of a child ends a strong thought provoking piece.
The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed was Lee Smith's first novel, written I believe, while she was a student at Hollins College. Like most first novels, it deals with coming of age childhood. Unlike most novels, it is written in the voice of a child, with the observations, understanding, and comprehensions of a child. Thus, the reader - like the child - witness these confusing events and must try to put them all together to make sense. I have read all of Lee Smith's novels and short stories. This book - along with Fair and Tender Ladies - is my favorite.
I remember reading this book years ago. I checked it out of the library and was so touched by it that I sought out a hardback copy so I could own it. This was my first Lee Smith book and I have followed her career for the last twenty or so years. She is a marvelous writer and this book is particularly special. She was the first writer of the South I'd read except for Harper Lee who was assigned to me in high school. She captured the heart and mind of a young girl in the South with such clarity and grace. I have enjoyed every one of her books since but this one will always remain one of my favorites. I recommend it highly.
Ms. Smith's novel is written in first person; the narrator, Susan, is a young girl who is unknowingly witnessing the disintegration of her family and is just beginning to experience adolescence. As a Freshman English teacher, I have great luck with the novel because the students understand and sympathize with Susan. The biggest problem with the novel is that Ms. Smith's narrator jumps out of voice, but it happens seldomly and actually makes for interesting class discussion about the differences between writers, readers, and characters. Its principal asset is that Dogbushes deals intelligently and sympathetically with a young girl's emotional and physical growth. It is a short novel and I find that the students actually read it because they like it. I teach the novel because I liked it when I read it many years ago, and I enjoy sharing it with my classes.