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Falling to Earth

Falling to Earth

4.0 7
by Kate Southwood

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March 18, 1925. The day begins as any other rainy, spring day in the small settlement of Marah, Illinois. But the town lies directly in the path of the worst tornado in US history, which will descend without warning midday and leave the community in ruins. By nightfall, hundreds will be homeless and hundreds more will lie in the streets, dead or grievously injured.


March 18, 1925. The day begins as any other rainy, spring day in the small settlement of Marah, Illinois. But the town lies directly in the path of the worst tornado in US history, which will descend without warning midday and leave the community in ruins. By nightfall, hundreds will be homeless and hundreds more will lie in the streets, dead or grievously injured. Only one man, Paul Graves, will still have everything he started the day with –– his family, his home, and his business, all miraculously intact.

Based on the historic Tri-State tornado, Falling to Earth follows Paul Graves and his young family in the year after the storm as they struggle to comprehend their own fate and that of their devastated town, as they watch Marah resurrect itself from the ruins, and as they miscalculate the growing resentment and hostility around them with tragic results.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Margaux Fragoso
Kate Southwood has written an absolutely gorgeous—and completely modern—first novel about the great tornado of 1925. She has plainly modeled her fictional town, Marah, on the devastated Murphysboro, Ill., where 234 people died, and she has drawn freely on period newspapers and survivors' accounts. But in an act of wonderfully independent imagination, she has concentrated the narrative of Falling to Earth on Paul and Mae Graves, the only couple in Marah whose house is untouched, whose children are safe, who lose nothing while everyone else loses everything…Southwood's beautifully constructed novel, so psychologically acute, is a meditation on loss in every sense.
Publishers Weekly
Natural disasters are capricious and cruel, leaving some to sort through rubble while others sit comfortably by. In Southwood’s fine debut, a 1925 tornado devastates the small town of Marah, Ill., touching everyone—except for one family. On the day of the storm, the Graves children are at home, sick, their house untouched as the school collapses. Their father, Paul, holds tightly to a pole at his lumber yard, the only other building to escape unscathed. The book begins in chaos, introducing characters within and immediately after the storm: “There is no time to talk over what needs to be done.... People are where they are and their surroundings decide for them.” This sense of haphazard destiny pervades the novel, and the omniscient third-person allows Southwood tremendous latitude to investigate the Graves family from the inside out. Paul; his wife, Mae; mother Lavinia, and even toddler Homer attempt to reconcile their suspiciously charmed status. And with reconstruction underway, the community’s feelings of awe toward the lucky family gradually turns to envy as Paul sells lumber to those rebuilding, benefiting from their misfortune. Southwood grounds abstract notions of faith, community, luck, and heritage in the conflicted thoughts of her distinct and finely realized characters. Agent: Richard Parks, the Richard Parks Agency. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
A tornado destroys a Midwestern town, and one family is left unscathed, only to find their troubles just beginning. It's a March afternoon, 1925, in the small town of Marah, Ill., too early for tornado season. So, when a giant twister sweeps across the area without warning, it takes a terrible toll of death and destruction. Most families lose at least one member and/or their homes. But the wife, mother and three children of Paul Graves, owner of the local lumberyard, take shelter in his providently built (and still rare in Marah) storm cellar, and Paul himself miraculously survives the storm, as do his business and employees. At first, Paul, wife Ma and mother Lavinia are part of the community rescue and salvage efforts, as well as tireless helpers during the grim aftermath: bodies are laid out on the front porch of their still-intact house, and the lumberyard builds scores of coffins. Despite the fact that the Graves family is humble, unassuming and the opposite of smug, it gradually becomes apparent that everyone else in town resents their good fortune. Even as the town is rebuilding, the Graves children are taunted in school, and Lavinia and Mae are shunned. Mae's mental health begins to waver. She doesn't understand why her husband and mother-in-law are resisting her timid suggestion that they move to California to join Paul's former partner in Graves Lumber, brother John. When his closest friend warns Paul that the townsfolk will boycott his lumber business, he is still reluctant to heed Mae's advice. By the time Paul finally realizes that he can't reverse the senseless scapegoating, it is too late: His family's sheer politeness and unwillingness to confront their detractors or one another will be their undoing. Unfortunately, all the conflict avoidance saps the novel of forward momentum, not to mention that essential ingredient of drama: the struggle against fate. A relentlessly bleak exposé of human failings with no redemptive glimmer in sight.

Product Details

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Sold by:
Penguin Group
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File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Kate Southwood received an M.A. in French Medieval Art from the University of Illinois, and an M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Massachusetts Program for Poets and Writers. Born and raised in Chicago, she now lives in Oslo, Norway with her husband and their two daughters. Falling to Earth is her first novel.

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Falling to Earth 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
kalevala More than 1 year ago
Fiction based on a true event. A severe tornado demolishes a small town on the Plains. One family is spared including their house and business. How does a family cope with extremely good luck and an envious town?
bookmanager More than 1 year ago
Great characters scripted in a heart-warming and, sometime heart-wrenching story. Makes you really think about why things happen to some and not others....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the novel very much. But since it was based on a historical event, I expected the book would tell more about the story and portray more about the devastation of the town and the people. I found it bit "over the line" in terms of the manner in which seemingly the entire town turned on this one family who escaped any injury or damage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very sad story about a long forgotten incident.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic novel, beautifully written. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Magnificent writing. Reminds me of Marilyn Robinson's Gilead. Heart-wrenching, yes and filled with grace.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so sad that halfway through l quit reading. I skipped to the end and even the ending was sad. The story was very believable and you could see how this could happen in a small town.