Book review by Roy E. Perry: “The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed” by Lee Smith


Editor’s Note:  Roy E. Perry wrote book reviews for The Tennessean and Nashville Banner for more than 30 years. Recently profiled in The Tennesean/Brentwood Journal, Mr. Perry recently has been “reading his way” through the works of Southern novelist Lee Smith. Here is Mr. Perry’s latest review:


The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed is Lee Smith’s first novel, published in 1968 while she was a 24-old student attending Hollins College (now University), in Roanoke, Virginia. The story is narrated in the first person by nine-year-old Susan Tobey, who struggles to comprehend her parents’ dysfunctional marriage.

What exactly are “dogbushes”? Susan finds a very sick dog cowering under the bushes along a fence by her home. In her child’s inventive mind, she calls them “dogbushes.”

Susan’s mother is “the Queen”; her older sister, Betty, is “the Princess”; but her father, Max, is not “the King.” Whenever her daddy is out of town, “the Baron” pays undue attention to “the Queen”—a scenario that cannot end well.

The main action of the story involves a young ruffian, Eugene, visiting from the city, who claims to have a “leader,” the nefarious (and imaginary) “Little Arthur.” Ostensibly inspired by Little Arthur, Eugene founds a club attended by other children: Susan, Robert, Gregory, Sara Dell, and Baby Julia. Whatever Little Arthur says, the children, joined by a blood oath, are commanded to do—and Little Arthur’s commands become increasingly sociopathic.

The chronicle of a disintegrating, deteriorating family, The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed is also a disturbing coming-of-age tale—of a young girl subjected to rape and having to grow up too soon in a world she doesn’t understand. Lee Smith’s first novel is not as complex or sophisticated as her later works, but by describing puzzling events that are seen through the eyes of a child, it rings true.

Lee Smith, one of the best “Southern voices” writing today, is the author of 12 novels and four collections of short stories. Her 13th novel, Guests on Earth, will be published on October 15.

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at Dave also is a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer.

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit and “like” the page on Facebook:

Do you want to help homeless people in Nashville learn culinary arts and other employment skills that provide a specific, effective path off the streets? Please visit and consider making a financial contribution. Any amount is very helpful and appreciated. Thank you.


Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew




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