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Falling to Earth Paperback – March 5, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Alone among the residents of Marah, Illinois, Paul Graves and his family emerge completely unscathed from the violent tornado that levels the town. Not a window broken, not a chair out of place; even his lumberyard remains utterly intact. As the toll of death and destruction begins to be tallied, the Graves are exemplars of salvation and sympathy. Their good deeds, however, are quickly diminished as resentment builds among the survivors. Why were the Graves spared? Did they deserve the largesse, or somehow orchestrate its occurrence? Like ominous drumbeats, insinuations prey on everyone’s minds, including Paul’s and his wife Mae’s. Once pillars of this tight-knit community, the family quickly become pariahs, and the tragedy that initially bypassed them eventually finds its way to their door in the storm’s wake. A tragedy such as this touches everyone, and Southwood explores the myriad ways lives are affected by disaster and its aftermath. All the big themes are here—chance, fate, loyalty, revenge, guilt, jealousy—and Southwood handles them deftly, with a nuanced but sure touch. Inspired by actual events surrounding the 1925 Tri-State tornado, the worst in U.S. history, Southwood’s poignantly penetrating examination of the psychic cost of survival is breathtaking in its depth of understanding, mesmerizing in its delicate handling of sensitive emotions. --Carol Haggas


"Absolutely gorgeous... Southwood's beautifully constructed novel, so psychologically acute, is a meditation on loss in every sense." (The New York Times)

"In this poignant debut novel...Southwood delivers a powerful portrait of grief." (The New Yorker)
"Stunning... resolutely realist... extraordinarily moving." (Financial Times)

"Inexorably, tragedy spawns tragedy in Falling to Earth. It's the poise with which Southwood approaches it that makes it so heartbreaking." (The Chicago Reader)

"What's most exciting about Southwood's debut is her prose, which is reminiscent of Willa Cather's in its ability to condense the large, ineffable melancholy of the plains into razor-sharp images." (The Daily Beast)

"Southwood's prose is vibrant and clear, and Falling to Earth's thrilling opening immediately draws in the reader with its brutal depiction of the power of nature." (BookPage)

"One of the best debut novels I have read in a long time...a novel which few will forget." (Mary Whipple, Seeing the World Through Books)
"Southwood's spare and measured prose attests to the fragility of life and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit...a powerfully moving and affective debut." (Bookmagnet)

"Southwood grounds abstract notions of faith, community, luck, and heritage in the conflicted thoughts of her distinct and finely realized characters." (Publishers Weekly)

"Her vivid descriptions of the Tri-State Tornado and the carnage left in its wake are so gripping that they will leave readers breathless...Readers looking for an emotionally true work of historical fiction will enjoy the complexity of the characters and their relationships." (BookPage)

"Southwood's prose is stark yet deeply felt, and her story reminds me of nothing so much as Thomas Hardy--where it's good people's own goodness that leads inevitably to tragedy." (Muse at Highway Speeds)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1609450914
  • ISBN-13: 978-1609450915
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #314,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About 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.

Kate has published reviews, articles, and essays in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Huffington Post, among others. She has also written in Norwegian for the online news service

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
An outstanding debut novel, Falling to Earth focuses on the aftermath of the largest, most powerful tornado ever to hit the United States, the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925, which traveled two hundred nineteen miles through northeast Missouri, across southern Illinois, and into southwest Indiana over the course of three hours eighteen minutes. Destroying everything in its path, it killed almost seven hundred people. Author Kate Southwood describes the aftermath of this storm in the town of Marah, Illinois, a rural composite of all the communities hit by this horrific storm. What elevates this novel above a journalistic report of buildings destroyed and communities devastated is Southwood's focus on the effects of the tornado on one family - not the inspiring survival story of a family that has lost everything, as one might expect, but the story of a family that has lost nothing, their children safe, their home intact, and their lumber business safe.

Paul Graves, owner of Graves Lumber, hears wailing and screaming as he hurries home after the tornado. Bodies lie everywhere, automobiles are overturned, and a woman is "frozen, screaming under a tree at a child's body caught high in its branches." Paul's children, he realizes, have escaped the fate of those killed in the collapse of the elementary school; his children were home with the chicken pox. The rest of the family - Paul's wife Mae and his mother Lavinia - have also escaped death, having had time to reach the basement shelter that Paul built. Soon the Graves' front porch is being used as a makeshift morgue, with as over a dozen bodies brought there, many of them as-yet-unidentified children.

The Graves family is unique, the only ones in the community who have escaped the tornado unscathed.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Valentino on April 7, 2013
Format: Paperback
Though national and local media usually treat us to the worst of human behavior, we still persist in clinging to the idea of our potential for good. Few events confirm our faith in the inherent goodness of humankind better than the aftermath of a natural disaster, as the outpouring of support for the victims of Sandy attests (barring, of course, the political nastiness that ensued). Yet, does the picture of human kindness hold up on the most personal level, within the hearts and minds of the victims themselves? We'd like to believe so, as we'd like to believe we ourselves would be stalwart, giving, and gracious to our neighbors in the midst of our own suffering. Thus, we might find it jarring, perhaps a tad offensive, to consider we could be baser beings.

And therein lies the strength of Southwood's brilliant debut novel, taking us where we don't expect to go, and accepting the reasonableness of her proposition: that even the best of us can succumb to envy, pettiness, and the propagation of evil; and, worse, can find resurrection from our repulsive descent only in an appalling leveling of suffering. You may wish to take this as a caution and a guarantee: FALLING TO EARTH will impress upon you, as it impresses you, an alternate lens through which to view a disaster, and you may not find it amiable.

Southwood transports us back to 1925, to the Tri-State Tornado, the deadliest in U.S. history, that spawned in Missouri, ravaged southern Illinois, where it took the most lives, and dissipated in Indiana, covering nearly 240 miles in under four hours, ending about 700 lives.

The novel opens as the storm strikes fictional Marah, IL, nearly sweeping lumberyard owner Paul Graves into the heavens.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Vivek Tejuja on March 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
The feeling of being alienated is not an easy one to digest, no matter what the circumstances. No matter what we say, we all want to belong and to be felt that way, more so in communities. If this is still the preferred way of life, even today, then imagine how important it must be in the time of 1925, when brotherhood and community mattered a lot more. The reason I say this is I have just finished reading Kate Southwood's brilliant book, "Falling to Earth", which shows us the need to belong and at the same time to ask ourselves: Do we really need to?

Southwood touches on the aftermath of the largest tornado to ever hit the United States, the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925. This tornado killed almost seven hundred people. The author focuses on one town in Illinois called Marah, which lay directly in the path of the tornado. Of course, there is a lot of loss depicted in the book - death, sadness and the sense to rebuild everything in tragedy's wake. At the same time, the book is about one family - the Graves family, who do not lose anything at all. Everyone is safe in their home. Their home and business are safe and intact. The only family in town that does not suffer.

What then follows in the book is resentment from the other people in town. The resentment arising from the fact that this family did not suffer. The town and its people cannot understand that and this leads to the family being alienated by the town. Kate speaks of crisis and what it does to people - the same people who once trusted you, do not anymore. The central character in the book - Paul Graves wants to do more and so does his family - for the community that is, however they aren't allowed to. The consequences of the tornado are tragic for them as well - for surviving that is.
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