FALLING TO EARTH by Kate Southwood

Book Quote:

“The children are frozen, too frightened to move closer to one of the women. The sound they heard while still in the house has advanced, roaring its way above them. There is a crash against the storm door, and they all scream, ducking with their arms held over their heads. Ellis drops his candle and, in the weak light left from the candle Mae is still holding, she sees his terrified face. Ruby is crying. Lavinia has Little Homer’s face pressed into the front of her dress as if she can shield him by blocking his sight. Mae reaches out her arms and Ruby and Ellis come to her immediately. She blows out her candle and drops it so she can hold both children tight against her. In the darkness, Lavinia cries, “Dear Lord! Oh, dear Lord!” Then the roaring moves on, like a train careering over their heads. The sound recedes and, eventually, even the wind seems to subside. When there is no longer any sound except rain on the cellar doors, the children hold utterly still, waiting to see what will come next.

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (MAR 5, 2014)

Falling to Earth is the kind of novel that makes me want to grab the very next person I see and urgently say, ”You MUST read this.” I read this rabidly with increasing awe and respect that Kate Southwood had the chops to create a debut novel with this degree of psychological insight, restrained power, and heartbreaking beauty.

The story centers on a tragedy of unimaginable proportions – a tornado hits the small Illinois town of March in 1925, causing devastation and grievous loss in the homes of every single resident of the town.

Except one.

That one is Paul Graves, a man of dignity and integrity, who lives with his wife Mae, his three young children and his mother, Lavinia. Incredibly, nothing in Paul’s life is touched – not his family, not his home, and not his thriving lumber business…which, in fact, is even more in demand as townsfolk order coffins for the burials of their loved ones.

As the townspeople are forced to bear up under nearly unbearable grief, their envy of Paul’s “unfair” providence reaches a fever pitch and they begin to turn on him – and against him – in droves. Paul, meanwhile, labors under extreme survivor’s guilt as Mae increasingly falls into a dark depression.

Kate Southwood writes,

“A tornado is a ravenous thing, untroubled by the distinction in tearing one man apart and gently setting another down a little distance away. It is resolute and makes its unheeding progress until, bloated and replete, it dissipates. A tornado is a dead thing and cannot acknowledge blame.. If a tornado smashes your house or takes your child, it does no good to blame it…Even after you’ve yanked up another house in the place the old one stood and planted flowers in the dirt where you laid your child, your fury remains as well your desire to lay blame.”

A parable of sorts, this magnificent novel strives to answer questions that have haunted humankind since early times: how do we comprehend the forces of nature and our own fates? How do we manage the extreme hostility and envy that result from nature’s unfairness? How do we break the cycles of revenge, vengeance, retribution and reprisal? These questions transcend this book and can easily be asked of modern tragedies – Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy, for example.

The themes are universal: love and loss, family, jealousy and suspicion, guilt and survival. I will not spoil the ending but I will say this – it is masterly and seamlessly brought together all the themes of the book and literally let me gasping.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 44 readers
PUBLISHER: Europa Editions (March 5, 2013)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Kate Southwood
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another tornado-based story:


March 5, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Facing History, Family Matters, Literary, US Midwest

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