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Comment: A well-cared-for item that has seen limited use but remains in great condition. The item is complete, unmarked, and undamaged, but may show some limited signs of wear. Item works perfectly. Pages and dust cover are intact and not marred by notes or highlighting. The spine is undamaged.
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Falling to Earth Paperback – March 5, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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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: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #208,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 5, 2013
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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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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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 grim, heartbreaking beauty.

The story centers on a tragedy of unimaginable proportions - a tornado hits the small Illinois town of Marah in 1925, causing grievous devastation and 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...
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