Kate Southwood’s Falling to Earth begins on March 28, 1925, as the deadliest tornado in history rips through Illinois. Her vivid descriptions of the Tri-State Tornado and the carnage left in its wake are so gripping that they will leave readers breathless.
After the storm passes, Paul Graves and his family are the only ones left in the fictional town of Marah, Illinois, who did not lose anything to the storm. The Graveses try to help the town rebuild with the raw materials from their lumberyard and by volunteering any way they can. Still, the townspeople resent having to buy materials to rebuild from a family that lost nothing, living up to the translation of the town’s Biblical name: “bitterness.” As time passes, this bitterness, along with survivor guilt, drives the Graves family away from their former friends and neighbors, leaving them estranged from the whole community. Though their house, business and family survived the tornado, the storm will still take its toll.
Southwood’s literary debut is a captivating novel that interweaves the storm’s horrific historical destruction and beautifully crafted characters. By interspersing the Graves’ story with chapters recounting conversations from the makeshift tent city across town, Southwood breathes life into the town as a whole.
Readers looking for an emotionally true work of historical fiction will enjoy the complexity of the characters and their relationships. With the deftness of the fusion of fiction and history in Southwood’s first work, readers should be excited about what is to come.
Clair McLafferty is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama.