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The Last Girls

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Revered for her powerful female characters, Lee Smith tells a perceptive story of how college pals who grew up in an era when they were still called "girls" have negotiated life as women. Harriet Holding is a hesitant teacher who has never married (she can't explain why, even to herself). Courtney Gray struggles to escape her Southern Living lifestyle. Catherine Wilson, a sculptor, is suffocating in her happy third marriage. Anna Todd is a world-famous romance novelist escaping her own tragedies through her fiction. And finally there is Baby, the girl they come to bury - along with their memories of her rebellions and betrayals.

432 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2002

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About the author

Lee Smith

48 books858 followers
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.

The sense of place infusing her novels reveals her insight into and empathy for the people and culture of Appalachia. Lee Smith was born in 1944 in Grundy, Virginia, a small coal-mining town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, not 10 miles from the Kentucky border. The Smith home sat on Main Street, and the Levisa River ran just behind it. Her mother, Virginia, was a college graduate who had come to Grundy to teach school.

Her father, Ernest, a native of the area, operated a dime store. And it was in that store that Smith's training as a writer began. Through a peephole in the ceiling of the store, Smith would watch and listen to the shoppers, paying close attention to the details of how they talked and dressed and what they said.

"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. My Uncle Vern, who was in the legislature, was a famous storyteller, as were others, including my dad. It was very local. 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. She was an insatiable reader. When she was 9 or 10, she wrote her first story, about Adlai Stevenson and Jane Russell heading out west together to become Mormons--and embodying the very same themes, Smith says, that concern her even today. "You know, religion and flight, staying in one place or not staying, containment or flight--and religion." From Lee Smith's official website.

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5 stars
919 (13%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 617 reviews
Profile Image for Connie Cox.
286 reviews181 followers
February 4, 2017
First let me say I love Lee Smith's writing. She is masterful at peppering her characters with the Southern nuances, charms and language that is familiar to me and I love that. However, this was not the best "story" of hers I have read. She did the narration herself for the audio and the honey smooth drawl of the south she gave to these women may have helped the rating.

This is a great premise as it is the tale of college roommates, who took a raft trip down the Mississippi in the mid 60's. They were instant celebraties as their adventure was followed by the newspapers. (think of todays social media celebs) As one character states....they were called "girls" though in this day and age they would all have been "women". (I was interested in a comment I read that Smith based this part of the story on a raft trip she herself took with college friends)

Anyway, forward to the present day as these women again gather to travel the river...minus one member of their group. We learn of their lives thru their own turns at narrating the story. How they were as the young girls, what their aspirations were, full of excitement about the future. Then what the future actually had held for them and where their lives had ended up. This nostalgic trip allowed each of them to recall who they once had been. My problem with this is that as young girls they had bonded even though they were very different, yet as women they remained rather cool and aloof. Most of them were actually rather sad to me. I liked the girls, the women not so much. kept waiting for them to become "real". They never connected and so to me the story felt disjointed.

Plus points for the beautiful language, the visuals of this river journey and the leftover thoughts of remembering myself as a young girl and reviewing my own then and now. Minus for characters who were a bit cold and fake and a story that just didn't come together.
Profile Image for Michele.
144 reviews
February 23, 2013
I was extremely disappointed with this book. The characters were poorly drawn. The point of view switched from one to another within a chapter. There were characters on the original boat trip who weren't included on the reunion trip - with no reason explained, and a bizarre mini-chapter at the end giving the reader information on them when the reader had never really heard of them to begin with. There was no reason to even have them as a part of the story at all. It should have been the five women on the raft, and then the four on the reunion trip - that would have made a lot more sense. And yet, there is time devoted to people who are seated at the dinner table of the characters for no reason at all. One character's husband has a point of view that is far more substantial in space (and possibly content) than the character herself - I felt that his point of view didn't contribute much.

Throughout the whole book, I kept asking 2 questions: 1) what was it about the trip that made them all agree to come back to do it again; 2) what happened to Baby that she wanted them to come together to do this? I was exceedingly disappointed to find only a few small passages of flashbacks that had anything to do with the rafting trip and that the trip was orchestrated by Baby's husband after her death.

I don't say this often, but I'm annoyed that I wasted my time reading this book.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book484 followers
December 27, 2018
3.5 stars rounded down.

I had real reservations opening this book. I had loved my introduction to Lee Smith so much and I heard from several sources that this book was not going to live up to my expectations at all. Agreed, this is no Fair and Tender Ladies, a book that will live in my heart and mind forever, but it is a good, solid read with an engrossing story and characters that seemed real and three-dimensional.

While in college, a group of girls decided to ride a raft, ala Huckleberry Finn, down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Four of them have come back together many years later to honor the passing of the fifth and take another voyage down the river, albeit in a more comfortable style. The book is both a glimpse into who they were as college girls and who they have become as women. If you have ever belonged to a group of friends and then moved on from them, but have never forgotten, you cannot help liking this book just on its face. I don’t think it hurts that the time period is one I feel connected to as well.

I have heard it said that the friends of our youth are the closest friends we will ever have, and I believe this to be true. Certainly it has been so for me. The boys of my childhood are the men I rely on now. For at no later time are we ever so open, so ready to offer up all that we have and all that we are, to allow others real access into our very souls. The friendships we make in later life are friendships of a different order, it seems to me.

These girls/women are not all the same, but they are all uniquely Southern, and this is something that Lee Smith knows about and portrays well. You might wonder that two very poor girls would end up rooming with girls who are rolling in daddy’s money, but I assure you it can happen. As a freshman, I was assigned a dorm room with a girl who was straight from the ritziest part of Atlanta, her house being a few doors down from the Governor’s Mansion. I was a lower middle-class scholarship student, who worked an on-campus job. She was refined and easy with everything; I was scared and out of my depth, and I we got on famously...one of the sweetest, least snobby people I have ever known in my lifetime. I think that experience may well explain why I sank into these relationships without any reluctance at all.

I found the backstory more interesting than the current one, which seems always to be the case when I read books with varying timelines. The end was a bit anticlimactic, but it would have been very difficult to have written an end to this story that made sense and wouldn’t have been so. All in all, a good effort, and a confirmation that I should continue to read Lee Smith’s books, which is good news since I have two more slated for 2019.
Profile Image for Kris.
5 reviews
July 16, 2007
I cannot begin to express my disappointment in this book. I was so excited to find a book written about my life long dream of floating down the mississippi on a homeade raft (yeah-I'm serious). It had so much potential and it bombed, there was like one scene about the rafting and the whole book was so woe is me I almost threw it into the ocean (I read it on a spring break trip). Do not read this book
Profile Image for Leah.
50 reviews
April 22, 2008
This is based on a group of girls from an all-girls college. It plays into the stereotypical 1950's view of women having a wasted life if they do not get married or have children. Its probably supposed to have a metaphor about life, but I missed it. So much potential and yet the book fell short. I did enjoy the writing style, which is the only reason I read the whole book. SKIP IT.
325 reviews1 follower
January 27, 2013
This book had an interesting premise and started out well. Characters were drawn well. However, the book never really gained momentum. Hints were dropped in flashbacks which never quite came together. I kept expecting the book to build into something. You spend time with characters who appear to change yet you leave without really knowing what change has occurred or whether this trip down memory lane will have lasting consequences for this group. Overall, the book left a hollow feeling.

The most telling scene in the book does not even involve "the girls." In an inelegant stab at explaining the book, an employee of the ship explains to a husband that the steamboat cruise nears New Orleans, then doubles back to circle an island and return back down the river. He states the change in direction happens so slowly that most guests don't even notice the cruises ruse to make the trip seem longer than it actually is. Circling around without getting anywhere, much like the characters of this book.
Profile Image for Val.
172 reviews7 followers
June 21, 2013
Simply marvelous book. I absolutely could not put it down once I started it. Every time I had to break from it: to sleep, to bathe, to go out to lunch with my mother and kids….it was agony. It is a lengthy book but even with these (necessary?) interruptions I managed to complete it in about 30 hours.

If anyone ever attended a women’s college in a small southern town you will feel right at home in these pages so wonderfully crafted by Lee Smith. I did. I graduated from Brenau Women’s College in Gainesville, Georgia in 1989 with a degree in English just like these characters. There is nothing, nothing like an old women’s college in the South that is steeped in tradition. I am familiar with Hollins on a slight level (where Lee Smith attended and was the basis for her inspiration.) I applied there, and was seriously considering attending there—but my parents felt it was too far away from Georgia so I ended up only two hours away instead of around a dozen.

I could relate to every single one of these female characters—it was like there was a little of me in every single one of them. Another thing I have done while reading this book is I have drug Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (my 1955 edition), which is most likely the one the characters would have read.

And most interestingly, in the beginning of Twain’s haunting tale is the line on the first page: “NOTICE: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be persecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR” ~~Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

And so it delights me so to hear the exchange between Anna and Harriett about plot in writing. There are many other areas about the original river journey and then this new river journey. I love how all characters hearken back to their English professors and what they learned from them, although Gaines was much younger at the time than they are now. I do the same thing. Forevermore, my English professors made such a mark on my attitudes regarding art, literature and writing—although I am as old now as they were then. It does not matter: they will always be the mentors that shaped me.

Please read this book. I honestly cannot wait to shelve it for a year or two and then read it all over again anew. Smith is an enchantress of writing: she deftly entwines tragic situations in the lives of all the characters—all strong southern women with secrets—with very humorous comic relief—just at the right turn, at the right moment. Essentially, that is the southern way of life—crying one moment and laughing hysterically the next. One of my favorite scenes was when the women all grab a handful of Baby’s ashes to throw over the side of the riverboat, releasing their dear college friend to the river only to have her spirited remains blow back on them in the wind.
Profile Image for Melinda.
1,230 reviews
December 18, 2011
I would have thought that 432 pages would have provided sufficient time to develop a character or two, but this book definitely proved this aspiration wrong. After reading the summary, it appeared that this book had promise - college roommates reuniting 30+ years after embarking down the Mississippi River on a raft, but too much fell short. Even after all that time, these five women appeared just as immature, shallow and self-conscious as ever, none with whom I would ever imagine being friends. Their common connection and reason for the reunion, a tribute/memorial to their recently deceased friend, Margaret "Baby" Ballou, was the most selfish, immature of the bunch, and yet, ended up with the most promising life.
I had my great hopes that this book would turn around and show promise, and so I continued, but even to the very end, all I can say is "blech."
January 10, 2021
Good story about friendship. A little choppy in the format it's written.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Roberta.
1,408 reviews123 followers
June 17, 2015
***letto nella edizione italiana Le ultime ragazze***

Nel 1965 alcune compagne di college, ispirate dalla lettura di Huckleberry Finn, decidono di discendere il fiume Mississippi in barca. Trentaquattro anni dopo quattro di loro si ritrovano a fare lo stesso viaggio, ma con una missione molto diversa: spargere nel fiume le ceneri di una di loro, Baby Ballou.

Mentre curiosavo in biblioteca ho notato questo romanzo (spesso punto a colpo sicuro i romanzi Neri Pozza) e la trama mi ha molto incuriosito: non solo c’è un viaggio su fiume che ha una forte valenza simbolica (è metafora della vita, di cambiamento) ma ce ne sono addirittura due, a trentaquattro anni di distanza l’uno dall’altro. Inoltre, il Mississippi è un fiume letterariamente importante, ci ricorda il grande narratore che fu Mark Twain (che è esplicitamente citato nei risvolti di copertina) e in generale il background di questo romanzo, ovvero il Sud degli U.S.A., giustifica le mie altissime aspettative.

Devo dire che il romanzo è davvero scorrevole, è un tomo abbastanza impegnativo dal punto di vista del numero di pagine, ma si legge velocemente, e la scrittura è molto bella ed elegante (merito dell’autrice o della traduzione?). Come dice l’insegnante di scrittura creativa delle protagoniste, quando si scrive bisogna sempre parlare di cambiamenti, perchè senza cambiamenti non c’è conflitto, e senza conflitto non c’è storia. E’ la voglia di sapere cosa succede dopo che ci incita a leggere un libro. Lee Smith si è ricordata di seguire il suo stesso consiglio ma apparentemente a qualche punto del romanzo si è distratta e ha lasciato perdere. L’impressione è proprio questa: l’autrice ci promette grandi cose ma non mantiene. Non solo del primo viaggio si parla assai poco (e spesso in modo davvero superficiale) ma anche i personaggi sono trattati in modo non superficiale, ma comunque nemmeno del tutto soddisfacente. Il secondo viaggio è una crociera su un’imbarcazione di lusso nel quale, oltre ai soliti personaggi eccentrici (il finto Mark Twain? il commensale con la “pompa”?) e le solite animazioni, non si trova traccia della magia che mi aspettavo. Inoltre durante tutto il viaggio nessuno di preoccupa molto del vero motivo per cui sono riunite lì, e spesso l’autrice divaga, raccontandoci aneddoti relativi al passato delle ragazze o addirittura di Russell, il marito di una di loro, oppure riportando alcune pagine del romanzo che Anna, la scrittrice di romance, sta scrivendo.

Alla fine mi ha deluso non aver approfondito i problemi delle protagoniste (Harriet è completamente passiva nella sua esistenza, Anna si limita a godersi la vita senza farsi coinvolgere da nulla, Caroline non sopporta più il marito, ed è già il quarto, Courtney deve decidere se lasciare il marito, che ha appena scoperto di avere problemi neurologici, per l’allegro e pazzo amante.) Mi ha disturbato l’assenza di un vero cambiamento in queste quattro donne, a volte c’è ma non è spiegato, o non è verosimile. Non si riesce nemmeno a capire come facciano a definirsi amiche (è da trentaquattro anni che non si sentono ed è tutto dire) e perchè abbiano deciso di intraprendere questa “avventura” insieme. Avventura il cui valore metaforico è solo accennato e non esplorato.

Nel complesso una lettura piacevole ma poteva essere molto, molto di più. Dato che mi piacciono le tematiche della Lee e il suo modo di scrivere, spero di leggere altro di lei per potermi ricredere!
Profile Image for Delores.
289 reviews
August 8, 2012
I picked this book up quite some time ago at a local book sale. It then sat on my shelf, which tends to happen. So on my journey to finally start tackling the books I own, I decided to read this one.

The story is about four college friends who reunite after many years to scatter the ashes of their fifth friend into the Mississippi River. Previously they had journeyed down the river while in college on a raft. There were actually more girls on the raft expedition but the story focuses on five of them.

Loosely based on the author's own college raft experience (note the author does state the characters are fictional), this story reflects a coming of age in college and then again later in life when the remaining women are in their 50s. For me, it made me nostalgic for my own days in college spent with my best girlfriends. It captures the essence of how even the best of friends can lose touch for trivial reasons, misplaced guilt, or sometimes because an individual simply wants to put the past behind them because of certain events and feelings they would prefer not to share, discuss, or relive.

Upon reuniting, the point of view is given by each friend. The reader learns how the character's past has shaped their future and how they each choose to hide their own insecurities, fears, and true feelings. While each friend is battling issues in their own lives or dealing with the ramifications of their own choices, they don't share it with one another, although at different times they each reflect that they could or should have reached out. The book effectively portrays how an individual can go back in time immediately when reunited with old friends; its as if the person hasn't changed at all even though they have changed significantly. At certain points in the novel, each character feels like the person they were in college, the expectations and perceptions return unintentionally.

I appreciated that in the end, the author did not neatly tie everything up. Life is messy and complicated and so are friendships. As individuals, there are feelings, emotions,and situations that aren't shared with even the closest of friends. Perhaps because we believe it is easier to let our perceived lives be seen as the truth. Kudos to the author for portraying the nuances of real life.
Profile Image for Sarah Sammis.
7,237 reviews215 followers
July 27, 2011
I love the cover art, the title and the concept of the book. I just wish I had actually enjoyed reading The Last Girls. I kept waiting for the story to get started but it seemed bogged down incoherent flashbacks. The only progression the book managed was the river boat's slow trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

There's nothing wrong with a book made up of flashbacks. Many writers have done it successfully: Nabokov's Lolita and Knowles's A Separate Peace are both good examples. Or for a more contemporary example, Fforde's Eyre Affair uses extensive flashbacks to illustrate the present day world, explaining how it came to be, thus enriching Thursday Next's story. Lee's story should do the same thing but her many flash backs never cover the adventure that brought the women together as friends. Instead her many flashbacks further divide up the characters keeping them separated into different boxes and chapters. It isn't until the very last chapter that she even attempts to explain why they have all decided to reunite for the river cruise!

After the death of a mutual friend, a group of women take one last journey together down the Mississippi to relieve a previous adventure they had shared and of course all the memories they had built together in their youth. It sounds like a story with great potential but it just isn't carried off. Throughout the book the present and past stories compete for page space so that neither one comes off in any coherent fashion. There is no room given for character growth and the protagonist is such a pushover that she never does anything to drive the plot except to reluctantly agree to do what everyone else tells her to do!
Profile Image for L.K. Simonds.
Author 2 books300 followers
January 1, 2019
3.5 stars.

Some of the reviews for this book were a little "meh." I enjoyed it more than I would've if I had not read Lee Smith's memoir, "Dimestore" first. One summer, Smith and some college friends floated down the Mississippi River on a large raft, making quite a splash in every town. By Smith's own account, they were priviledged and pretty girls, who naively believed their futures would be as friendly as their brief, sheltered pasts.

For years afterward, people asked Smith why she didn't write about that adventure - it was so unusual and so celebrated at the time. In her opinion, there wasn't a story in it. Then years passed and the future happened, and Smith found a story to write: The Last Girls.

All of that said, if you haven't read Lee Smith yet, I don't recommend starting here. Listen to the audiobook of "Fair and Tender Ladies" first. I hear the heavy dialect of the print edition is challenging, but the narrator (Kate Forbes) brings the protagonist, Ivy Rowe, to life. If you become a Lee Smith fan after that, as I did, read "Dimestore: A Writer's Life" before "The Last Girls." You'll appreciate it much, much more.

Oh yeah, I didn't mention any of the characters or particulars in this novel. There are plenty of other reviews to give you those. I will say that Baby Ballu is remarkable, the character who keeps you reading and hoping for the best, even though you already know from the outset it isn't to be. Lee Smith excels at creating female characters we can't quite get enough of, despite their flaws.
Profile Image for Jan.
510 reviews15 followers
April 14, 2009
While there were parts of this book that I really enjoyed, overall I would have to say that it was disappointing.

With its long chapters full of dense, dialogue-free paragraphs, I had a hard time getting into the book to start. I felt that most of the main characters were poorly developed, to the point that I often thought to myself, "Now, why would they react like that?" Additionally, some of the main characters were only marginally likable, even after you learned of the personal tragedies that had formed who they were.

Still, I found myself interested in their lives, only to be disappointed by underdeveloped story lines and much unfinished business. I guess that's pretty much what life is like, but since that's the case, I don't really need to be left hanging in my fiction reading.

The ending landed with a really heavy thud for me and was probably the biggest disappointment in the book. Unless Ms. Smith is planning a sequel, she left me hanging. I also found the short "update" chapter on the "rest of the girls" from the original trip very superfluous. They were hardly even mentioned in the rest of the book, why on earth would I care enough about them to get their updates?
Profile Image for Dana.
53 reviews2 followers
June 24, 2013
This is one of those books I chose because of its setting (the South), but approached with caution because of its initial similarity to a grown-up version of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: a group of ladies with distinctly different personalities who are drawn together by a common bond. I was pleasantly surprised that the characters of the book were much less one-dimensional than I had originally expected. I personally identified most with Catherine, the artist from Alabama. I was also quite curious about the unfolding plot around Harriet's back story. However, I found Anna's character the LEAST believable, and even, for lack of a better description: gaudy and annoying. The character of Baby was at first intriguing, but then she also became annoying. And Courtney's situation, finding love with a chubby pretending-to-be-gay Elvis impersonator? Give me a break. Not believable. At. All. I also often found myself thinking, "Rich white girls' problems." Even with the aforementioned not so favorable comments, I would probably recommend this to someone as a beach read, but not for a significant intellectual stimulation. Perhaps someone my mother's age, or a little older, who was raised in the South, who had a lot of money, would better identify. Or maybe not.
Profile Image for Holly Mueller.
2,184 reviews
December 20, 2011
After reading some of the not-so-favorable reviews, I realized listening to the audio version of this story might have enhanced my experience! The narrator is so perfect. She has a rich Southern drawl, and had just the right amount of bittersweet and nostalgia in her voice - perfect for the mood of this book. I thought it was The Big Chill meets The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (after I said this to my mom, I saw that one reviewer called it The Big Chill meets Huckleberry Finn - ha). The story follows women who have come together in 1999 to re-create a trip down the Mississippi River like the one they took in college in 1965, in order to scatter the ashes of Baby Ballou, one of their friends, who was killed in a car accident. Between flashbacks and present-day thoughts/ events, each woman is given a full story. The book ends with the group giving Baby a goodbye ceremony, and Harriet, the character whose point of view started the book, deciding to embrace her life and live it to the fullest. I really loved listening to this book and would highly recommend the audio version.
Profile Image for Stewart.
319 reviews13 followers
August 27, 2016
"The Last Girls" is a fictional account of a cruise on a luxury steamboat down the Mississippi River in May 1999 by a group of women who went to college together in Virginia and who had taken a trip on a large homemade raft in 1965 down the same river. The book is based on the real-life raft trip down the Mississippi that the author and 15 of her classmates at Virginia's Hollins College (whose alumnae also include Annie Dillard) took in 1966.
Lee Smith provides a fascinating character study of the fictional women, all from the South, from the time they were in college in the 1960s to their lives 34 years later aboard the "Belle of Natchez" as it steams from Paducah, Ky., to New Orleans.
The author did thorough research on steamboats going down the Mississippi River, and her accounts of the days on the "Belle of Natchez" and the sights to be seen on the shores of the river ring true.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,509 followers
July 30, 2012
The lives and loves of four women in their 50's are portrayed and contrasted in the context of a riverboat trip down the Mississippi as a reunion of their previous trip on a raft as college students at a small girls' school in Virginia 35 years before. The novel has a fairly good balance between reflection on the past life choices and current actions to try to connect with old friends and new possibilities. Yet it does not make you cry, it does not make you laugh, and the wisdom imparted is fairly modest. The latter might be summed up by a view espoused by their old literature professor: "Every story must contain the possibility of change, my lovelies. If there is no possibility of change, there's no conflict, and if there is no conflict, there's no story".
416 reviews2 followers
October 25, 2017
What a colossal waste of a day of reading. Author uses the word "even" too often; that was distracting. These women had not been in touch for 35 years, why in the world would they get together now? Courtney had an obese lover, but made fun of fat people on the boat. Catherine was a nonentity. Harriet was a milquetoast; unbelievable to be taking notes from the tour guide. Anna never interacted with the others on the trip. They barely talked about the reason they were on the boat to begin with. Why was Russell in the book? He didn't know any of the other women, and his back story was unnecessary. And the death on the boat had no purpose. And the end? The vignettes about the other women? POINTLESS.
Profile Image for Megan.
1,660 reviews60 followers
February 25, 2018
Lovely writing. I appreciate the author's perspective in capturing the unique privilege and sheltered expectations of the white southern female. With the book being set partially in the mid-60's, she shows how some of those expectations were shifting, while others did not. I really enjoyed the characters - they were not perfect, nor were their lives fixed by the end of the book. But they seemed realistic. My only criticism was I did not like how the author eluded to other women being involved in the adventure, then never really mentioned them until little synopses at the end. It was disconnected, and I didn't know who they were really or where they fit into the adventure. Definitely worth reading! 4 stars
Profile Image for Rebecca.
444 reviews13 followers
March 30, 2020
This is a novel which takes a look at what it meant to grow up in the 1960s as a girl in the South. It is told through the view of an older woman looking back on her life and the lives of friends who were very close to her in college. The author focuses especially on the problems of rich white Southern girls and poor white semi-Southern girls. Written in the 1990s and touches on most of the concerns of women in the 90s.
Profile Image for Jill.
180 reviews
May 15, 2018
Really enjoyed this book about 4 women returning to the Mississippi River in their fifties, a re-run (of sorts) of a trip they took as young women at an all women's college. We follow four women -- Harriet, Courtney, Catherine and Anna -- and they're all interesting, and all different.

Lee Smith has done an excellent job of bring the mid 1960's alive. I could almost see the college campus and the "suite" these 4 women shared in their first couple of years at college. The back story of each woman was woven into the novel in an interesting way - each was done differently so it didn't feel like a formula.

And the current versions of the four main characters was also interestingly told, covering a bit of the period before the Mississippi trip, but mainly during it.

There were a few minor missteps which stopped this being a 4.5 star review for me. But they didn't interfere with my overall enjoyment of this engaging novel.
Profile Image for Megan Palasik.
244 reviews4 followers
September 27, 2011
Uh, I don't even know what to say about this book. I had to force myself to finish it. I listened to it as an audio book and it was read by the author, so one would think that would make the experience that much more enjoyable! That was not the case for this book.

Actually, I think the author's reading made me like the book less. Sure, she had some great southern drawl and charm incorporated, but her reading was rather dull and not exciting to me. There were no less than 4 female main characters and 3 male main characters and she seemed to use the same voice for all of them. When someone is reading this book, perhaps there are page breaks or something to let the reader know a new section is starting. However, when it's read and listened to, there is no indication of such change, which makes for a very confusing listener. Especially when you have been listening to a female character for a few minutes, and all of a sudden, there's a different male character's point of view! It was all confusing and uninteresting.

I was drawn to the book because I love the idea of drifting down the Mississippi on a raft with some friends! How fun does that sound!?! However, that adventure has virtually nothing to do with the book. It is mentioned for a few minutes/pages and is gone. The author could have simply said they were a group of college friends. End of back story. They're having a reunion and decided to go down the Mississippi River. Here's the story of the sad and depressing lives they've lived since college.

The characters were confusing. The only one I could keep straight was Anna, the writer. The others all meshed together to me and I couldn't remember who was married and not and to whom...nor why it mattered. I stuck it out because I kept hoping for a big long flashback to adventures floating down the river, but it never happened. Boring.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
863 reviews47 followers
February 25, 2016
Memphis, Tennessee on May 7, 1999. Five women gather at the Peabody Hotel in preparation for a second trip on the Mississippi River, but this time it will be on a luxurious riverboat and with a different mission. One of the original rafters has died and they have decided to scatter her ashes on the water. Now, in their fifties, the women have lived very different lives from when they were in their twenties. Harriet Holding narrates the story and arrives at the hotel anxious about her life that has involved teaching, living with her mother, and not marrying or having children. Anna Todd is a romance writer with a worldwide reputation. Catherine Wilson, a sculptress, is married to her third husband. Courtney Gray is married to a wealthy man and considered a socialite . Baby is dead and the one whose ashes will be scattered on the river. A close glimpse of their lives shows how the girls have changed since the first trip down the Mississippi on a raft when they were sassy , romantic, and considered "southern belles".
2,328 reviews
September 19, 2019

Is life about what happens to you or what you make of those events? Yourself? ~ MSL

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” ~ Carlos Zafon (accent on O). GOODREADS QUOTE

The Last Girls (2002)
"There are no grownups - this is the big dirty secret that nobody ever tells you.

"Sometimes life is more like a river than a book." ~ Cort Conley

Ryan’s calls himself “Mimi’s Little Brown Grandson.” His favorite song these days is “Sounds of Silence.” So when it came up in this book, I thought of him. But he thinks the words are : Hello, My Little Dark Friend.” Isn’t he sweet!!

10 JUN 1965 12 GIRLS ON RAFT

* caught inside a kaleidoscope P 123
* Thomas’ whole life was mapped out for him - all he had to do was live it P 127 (when he assaulted her, Harriet got herself out of the “trap” and inside chaperone’s house; SHE WAS GOOD AT GETTING OUT OF TRAPS)
* Harriet’s whole life was “gone” after Jill died P 132

SUITEMATES IN TOWER SUITE (coveted suite) : All signed up for yearlong Intro to Creative Writing class; Prof of Poetry semester where many students had misconceptions about poetry = that it has to rhyme, that it has to be pretty.

Mr. Holland, Poetry Prof, said: The fact is that it doesn’t really matter what your intentions were in writing this poem, Miss Holding. Now the poem exists as an entity in the world quite apart from you, as it must, subject to our interpretation. You, the writer, cannot dictate that interpretation to us. You cannot protect this poem. In fact, Miss Holding, you have no further control over this poem at all.” P 123

It seems like having children is just the same as Mr. Holland described about poetry. The same is true of anything we create and of life itself.

BABY &. } Roommates. May have had abortion before college?
HARRIET}. What will “bring her out?”

COURTNEY &} Roommates. DUTY was important to her; stay with sick hubby
vs. LIFE = what she really wants

Intro to Creative Writing Class (yearlong)
Mr. Gaines said: Only 2 plots in literature:
1. Somebody takes a trip;
2. A stranger comes to town

June 10, 1965 = raft trip begins

"They named the raft for an early Mary Scott College alumna?? from Paducah whose sister, Lucille Picket, had entertained them for tea = Sister Daisy;

1. DIED in car accident just before Christmas] Margaret "Baby" Burns BALLOU of Demopolis, AL m. Charlie MAHAN - Harriet's college roommate who had idea of 12 girls on raft; Margaret/Baby must have died because her husband invited everyone to reunion- Courtney & Harriet wonder if suicide b/c Baby was troubled; she may have had an abortion before college; pale, plump young woman with pig face who said she knew Baby from hospital came to visit Baby and Baby said she was : Nobody but may have given her a check; Baby’s mother died before Baby arrived at college; stepmother has a brain the size of a pea and her father shows off his wealth; twin brothers who are holy terrors; Harriet’s mother (Alice) wondered after 1st meeting Baby if she was “alright”
Baby has a brother Richard Ross Ballou who died when she was 10 and he was 13, it may have been an accident but he was playing with a rope in a tree and was hanged, Baby witnessed it;
2. Ruth d'Agostino of NY, NY

3. Lauren DuPree of Mobile, AL No one commented much about her 1st poem in class

4. Jane Gillespie of Richmond, VA

5. Courtney GRAY "Helpful" of Raleigh, NC m. Henry "Hawk" RAWLSTON; has affairs = 2 sons Scott & Jeremy, 2 daughters Evangeline & Lydia; is supposed to meet Harriet for dinner; she's married, organized & rich; but was poor in school; organized raft trip with Suzanne St. John; has a twin sister & it's where she went when she left Hawk; whose only other sib= Stephen died in Vietnam; Courtney had affair with Gene Minor

6. Susan Alexis Hill of Atlanta, GA; made Phi Beta Kappa in Jr year;

7. Harriet Holding of Staunton, VA - scholarship student & English major, never married b/c too busy taking care of everybody=
Jill - moral center of family & her father was Hal Ramsey who disappeared when Jill was born,
Mama (Alice), who had a sewing shop and made all Harriet’s clothes but wouldn't answer questions about H's father or grandparents-said H was a love child; Mr. Carr looked out for Mama the rest of his life- had a son Jeff Carr who fell hopelessly in love with Baby Ballou in college;
her students;
[Story opens in 1999 (34 years after the adventure) with Harriet arriving in Memphis, TN to meet "Baby" and the newspaper article on their trip years ago "12 excited Mary Scott College (fairy-tale Blue Ridge campus) students about to begin their 'Huck Finn' journey down the Miss. on a raft. Mile 736, Friday 5/7/1999, 1645 hours"; her dream was to get a PhD & publish papers in learned journals while writing brilliant novels on the side; anxiety attacks; [I think PTSD from some tragedy in her life.] Harriet had been writing a novel on the raft but failed to complete it when everything happened. teaches a "Write for Your Life" workshop where she helps her Ss write their own life stories; [See p 21 re: What did they learn on the raft voyage?] claims she doesn't have a secret but then thinks "there's nothing she CAN tell" to Courtney;
Harriet didn’t understand that the whole object of college was to graduate with an engagement ring as well as a diploma but everyone else seemed to understand this. P 129 (“Rules” about sex)************************This was perpetuated down through the generations with very few people being honest about how it all worked. Because a woman who was pregnant before marriage was looked down on. DISCUSSION POINT ******************************
Her sister, Jill, died that weekend she was at the Winter Frolics at KA House at Washington & Lee with Thomas Lee. P 130
Harriet had never been to church before Jill’s funeral.

8. Bowen Montague of Nashville, TN

9. Suzanne St. John of New Orleans, LA; organized raft trip with Courtney; said: No hear-shaped corsages in NOLA;

10. Anna Todd of Ivy, WV we meet her 3rd; romance author who thought: that fugitive TIME has stolen most of her life;
Pain serves no function at all;

11. Mimi West of Silver Spring, MD

12. Catherine Wilson of Birmingham, AL m. Howie first, then Steve and now Russell HURT we meet 4th; SHE IS A SCULPTOR; loved writing in college; No one commented about her 1st poem; Harriet was fascinated by her b/c didn’t care what she looked like or what she said; invariably late to class; Russell is fixated on women - makes lots of comments;

Skipper Gordon Cartwright 74 yo

Prof. Tom Gaines, hippie college
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,822 reviews284 followers
March 16, 2016
“Every true story ends terribly, if you follow it far enough….”
Four women head off to recreate a trip down the Mississippi they first took many years ago when they were girls in college. The four gather at the behest of the husband of Baby, one of the original group of girls, a girl who had a strong influence on the lives of all the women, and who has just died unexpectedly in a tragic accident.
The four quirky women, the Last Girls of the title, Southerners one and all, use the trip to reminisce about the past, to contemplate the accomplishments and regrets of their lives, and to offer sympathy and support for each other.
Better-than-average Baby-Boomer women’s fiction, with strong characters and strong writing. Be warned that the others in my bookgroup complained about the way in which the story abruptly jumps from character to character and from the past to the present.
Profile Image for LemonLinda.
858 reviews87 followers
June 28, 2016
Four college friends meet on a riverboat cruise down the Mississippi to bury the ashes and to recreate memories of a fifth friend who is now deceased. Some of the memories are painful and all have taken such differing pathways so that each is now a bit of a stranger, yet a stranger with intimate knowledge of the past. Lee Smith can write such a creative southern story and this one partially set in a fictional all female college (maybe thinly veiled as Hollins University) in the 60s and partially set as the riverboat makes its way south is a really good character study as all the friends have led lives with a colorful and/or shady "past".
Profile Image for Aspasia.
782 reviews10 followers
July 18, 2011
This book opens with a character who is indecisive. This drives me crazy in real life and I thought it was a weird way to start a book. Overall this book is depressing. These former college roommates relive their Mississippi River voyage because one of their own has died. Not much of the original trip is mentioned in the book; the focus is on their college years and what happened to the four characters after college. None of the women seem happy with their current situation and some of them have engaged in extramarital affairs. Some of the chapter endings seemed rushed and the "epilogue" where the other college girls are mentioned seemed out of tune with the rest of the story.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Meadows.
1,821 reviews201 followers
April 27, 2016
The premise of this book sounded good, but I really just didn't enjoy the story at all. I could not identify with any of the characters. Their life choices and foul language were not the type of things that I enjoy hearing about. If I were talking to these people in real life, I would probably have to step out of their conversations and say, "TMI!" I listened to this in my car, but it took awhile since it was not kid appropriate. The redeeming factor of this audio book was the narrator, which I learned later was the author. I loved her beautiful southern drawl and would enjoy hearing her read other audio books. (Just ones without so much foul language.)
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