The premise to On Agate Hill is a good one. A box of mementos from a once stately southern plantation house is found, offering a glimpse into the past and an introduction to a young girl who lived in the house during the years following the Civil War. The author, Lee Smith, uses a variety of narrative tools to acquaint the reader with young Molly Petree, but I found these to create a disjointedness about the novel. For starters, we have young Molly’s diary – a laundry list of people that left me more confused than anything about who these people were. Next came letters from two women who ran the school Molly later attended. This tool was better, but the author created whole scenes and dialogues from the letters that seemed very unlikely to have appeared in a letter. Lastly, Smith incorporates newspaper clippings, which in and of itself were alright, but when you place all these different types of narratives together, it greatly affects the fluidity of the book.
I enjoyed the story of Molly Petree, but was not appreciative of the means Lee Smith used to tell it.
3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2006