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Falling to Earth

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  845 Ratings  ·  187 Reviews
“Kate Southwood has written an absolutely gorgeous – and completely modern – first novel” — New York Times Book Review

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.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Europa Editions (first published March 1st 2013)
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Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
At first, this seemed like such a quiet and unassuming novel; a period piece about the tragedy of tornadoes in a small mid-western town, the one family who escapes losing their house or lives, and the ugliness of mob mentality. But, no. A family being outcast and a town dealing with unimaginable loss is only the tip of what this book exposes.

Mae Graves starts out as a regular 1920s American housewife, but the pressure of her family being ostracized for their “luck” kick-starts a downward spiral
May 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 Marah in 1925, causing devastation and grievous loss in the homes of
Julie Christine
I tacked the Earthquake Preparedness checklist to my bulletin board several years ago, vowing I’d devote a weekend to assembling the suggested survival kit. I finally admitted defeat when we moved this spring and tossed it into recycling. But I had a queasy feeling my careless act meant I’d set the Pacific Northwest’s geologic karma a-tilt.

Like many residents of the Pacific Ring of Fire, I sense we are living on borrowed time. The Big One - the devastating earthquake that is a matter of when, n
Aug 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a quiet masterpiece that's going to follow me around for a while, maybe for the rest of my life. It is about how a small town and then a family in a small town are destroyed by the aftermath of a deadly tornado. Note I say, the aftermath and not the storm itself. In the worst disasters it seems, there is radiation even when there isn't radiation. In this case it's big giant fuck you rays that permeate the flesh and spirit of the sole family that loses nothing and nobody in the storm.
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Here's a book that slowly seeps into your pores. The story moves along slowly, methodically and makes you wonder about how a tornado/hurricane/storm can change so many lives. It's a story about how the Graves family and the town of Marah, Illinois cope in the aftermath of the worst tornado in US history that took place on March 18, 1925.

It's not easy to deal with the loss of loved ones, home, job, just about everything all at once and then combine all that with one family who was totally spared.
Roger Brunyate
Aug 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
Steinbeck meets Robinson

Go to Amazon, click on the Look Inside feature, and read the short prologue of Kate Southwood's debut novel. Only 23 lines, it is as powerful an evocation of a killer tornado as you could imagine. It has a date—March 18, 1925, the Tri-State Tornado, the worst in US history—but so far no place; it is something that could happen anywhere. However, Southwood's first chapter proper makes the generic immediate and personal. The setting is Marah, Illinois, a fictional small tow
Bonnie Brody
May 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This beautiful and resonating book is difficult to review because of its power and poetry. I was spellbound and riveted from the beginning and the ending brought goose bumps and tears to my eyes. It is difficult to believe that this is Ms. Southwood's debut novel, so wonderfully rendered and characterized as it is.. It is published by Europa which usually has wonderful books coming off its press.

The story is about a tornado of torrential magnitude that takes the town of Marah, Illinois in its gr
Mary Lins
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: complete
This novel is HAUNTING ME. I can't stop thinking about it. It showed me a perspective that I'd never thought about before: survivors of huge catastrophes and what happens afterwards.

A friend of mine commented that this novel has the makings of a classic and I agree. I can envision it taught in High Schools along with "To Kill a Mockingbird" to illustrate some of the darker aspects of human nature.

I'll be looking for more from Kate Southwood!
I read the first 130 or so pages of this book in one day, and that night, I had nightmares. Not nightmares about tornadoes or the physical destruction they leave behind, but nightmares about alienation, resentment, guilt, and shame.

They were kind of weird for me. Instead of dreaming about the characters in this book or something going on in my own life, I dreamed about walking down the streets of places well-known to me, the paths and sidewalks of my college campus, for instance, or the street
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Falling to Earth is a first novel by Kate Southwood. The author based the novel on a tornado that devastated an area in 1925. The opening scenes are vivid, apocalyptic but the real story begins after the disaster, when the one family that lost nothing becomes the focus of resentment and hatred for the rest of a town that lost something, often everything, and everyone, in the catastrophe. Paul Graves, father of the familly, has his mother look up the use of scapegoat in the bible. "At least they ...more
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a raw, harrowing tale of community and trauma that really made my heart ache with the sadness and loss experienced by the central characters and surrounding community. And I am not one for heartaches, so that says something about how honestly and vividly Southwood can portray these events and emotions in her writing. This book was at times quite painful to read.

The fictional story revolves around the true events of the tri-state tornado of 1925 that devastated several small communities a
May 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A rare and special book, which resonates with power, emotion and the human tragedy. Kate Southwood’s “Falling to Earth” has the dignity and moral vision of Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”

It's 1925— the worst tornado in U.S. history devastates a small Illinois town, tests its residents in every way, including the acceptance of one family’s survival. One family among them remains seemingly unscathed—they have lost no one, their house still stands and their lumber business remains intact—while their
Diane S ☔
Nov 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
March is not typically the time of year for tornadoes, but in Maran, Illinois on March 18th, 1925, the deadliest tornado to ever hit the United States devastated this small town. Paul and his family, will be the only family that has not lost anything. Children who were at school that day, houses, businesses all gone in a blink of an eye. The emotion and trauma at the beginning of this novel was intense, everyone who dies, men, woman, children, animals. grief stricken survivors. This was in the d ...more
Apr 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It is subtle and involving and about the guilt of survival and the bonds of family. My only complaint is that I read the last 20 pages while having my hair colored and suffered the humiliation of weeping while sitting in a barber chair with gook on my head. If I hadn't been in a public place I would have simply sobbed out loud.

I also asterisked a paragraph, something I haven't done in years. Here is a part of it:

"She'll tell him when he stands in front of this house as a man
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
24 APR 2014 -- Tissues! Boxes and boxes of tissues. You will need them.

A beautifully written story of how one family's good fortune was made into a misfortune by their small-minded neighbors. This book demonstrates how quickly we turn on our fellow man and begrudge him everything because we cannot stand the idea of someone having that which we do not and, so, he too, should be made to suffer.

I recommend this one highly.
Cook Memorial Public Library
Recommended by staffer Ellen J. Read her review:

Check our catalog:
Jaime Boler
Feb 11, 2013 rated it really liked it

Kate Southwood’s grim, gruesome, raw, and intimate novel Falling to Earth is a story about conflict: man against nature, man against man, and man against himself. Southwood’s spare and measured prose attests to the fragility of life and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. However, there is a darker side to this story—one where fear, jealousy, and suspicion wreak havoc on a man and his family. Falling to Earth is also a timely novel in a year, make that a decade, of extreme weather phenomen
May 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Coincidentally, I started this book the same week that Moore OK was levelled by a massive tornado. Falling to Earth is a novel built upon a real twister, the Tri-State Tornado of 1925, and set in a fictional town called Marah, Illinois which was completely flattened.

Except for one family's home and their lumber yard, that is. Paul and Mae Graves, his mother, their three young children and their properties emerge unscathed from the devastation which claims every other home and business in Marah.
Pamela Pickering
I really can't figure out how to rate this one. I put it aside for several months after about halfway through. It was well written but it bothered me on some level I really can't identify. Perhaps it was the level of bitterness that got to me. Or perhaps it reminded me too much of the stories my dad told me about how my grandfather was treated. My grandfather was a wheat farmer in SW Oklahoma but he also owned a garage. Grandpa was smart in saving money and when hard times hit the small town the ...more
Apr 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a very well-written small novel with sweeping ideas. A tornado devastated an area in 1925, and Kate Southwood took this historical fact and wrote a beautiful elegy about random destruction, human behavior and faith.

The Graves family is the only family in the town of Marah,Illinois, to survive this horrible tornado that descended upon their town without damage to life or home. Even Paul Graves's lumberyard stays intact. The beginning of this book, which describes the impact of this unex
Alicia Farmer
This rarely happens to me, but I stopped trusting the author and couldn't read beyond page 51. On reflection, this was the sentence that pushed me over the edge:

"The children [...] see what the adults cannot: that one is responsible to a beating heart, that the simple act of walking means moving forward in more than just the literal sense, and that even the act of reaching into the wreckage of a house to save a book or a tea kettle is a kind of beginning."

Um, no. Children are not wise in those w
Tyler Goodson
Feb 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
I came upon this modern/historical/Shakespearean tragedy by chance, and am really so glad I did. I'm also a little sad, because there are so many books out there like this: so great but completely under the radar, and there's almost no chance of knowing about and reading them all. And that's what I want--to read them ALL.
Arlene Agree
May 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Such a sad, honest, moving story. In light of the recent tornado in Oklahoma and all the horrific
disasters we've had to face lately, a very timely book that really gets you thinking about how you would handle a devastating situation.
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
You will forget to breathe while you are reading it.
You won't be able to put it down until it's finished.
You won't want it to end.
Read it.
“The children are frozen, too frightened to move . . . 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.”

Anyone who reads Kate Southwood’s hauntingly epic novel, “Falling to Earth,” without a flood of tears and/or an onslaught of emotions uprooting them, might want to check their pulse. For it certainly isn't a casual read or a story merely to enterta
David Abrams
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Pivoting off the real-life Tri-State Tornado of 1925, Kate Southwood’s debut novel is a riveting account of wealth, gossip, and ostracism. The wind's devastation is described in vivid images like “a woman is frozen, screaming under a tree at a child’s body caught high in its branches” and “trees have been snatched out of the ground like hanks of hair.” Paul Graves, owner of a successful lumberyard, miraculously survives the tornado as the rest of his small Illinois town is flattened. While the t ...more
Nov 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
A 1925 tornado flattens a small town in Illinois except for the Graves family who suffer no losses to their home or lumber business, but are shocked when they are shunned by their friends in the town causing severe emotional distress to each member of the family.

Most of the book is not about the actual tornado itself, but the human behavior aspect of the town's people toward the Grave's family which sometimes becomes a bit monotonous.

Interesting read with a shocker of an ending.

Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It is hard to believe that this is the author's first book.
Falling to Earth is amazing, beautifully written by a the gifted Kate Southwood. From the beginning, it captured me with the details of a storm and a family dealing with the aftermath, which lasts forever.
I got a copy from our library but am going to buy a copy for my bookcase, to read again and feel the love and pain shown on those pages. Falling to Earth is astoundingly wonderful.
Vivek Tejuja
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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Around the Year i...: Falling to Earth, by Kate Southwood 1 9 Jan 01, 2018 08:01AM  
  • Bitter Almonds
  • Middle C
  • Saving Mozart
  • Wichita
  • You Are Not Like Other Mothers
  • Lazarus is Dead
  • Dark Times in the City
  • Summertime All the Cats Are Bored
  • The Frost on His Shoulders
  • Ghost Moth
  • Last Train to Paris
  • Alfa Romeo 1300 and Other Miracles
  • Firefly
  • Life Goes On
  • La monaca
  • Aglio, menta e basilico: Marsiglia, il noir e il Mediterraneo
  • Stony River
  • The Red Kimono
Kate Southwood received an M.A. in French Medieval Art from the University of Illinois, and an M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts. She is the author of novels Falling to Earth (a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick) and Evensong. She has written for The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the Huffington Post, among others. Born and raised in Chicago, she now live ...more

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“Before the storm, he'd been a man who never met a stranger, never seemed to doubt himself. He could run faster than anyone; there had been joy in his movements, his world was full of possibilities, and he'd stood taller than he actually was. Like a house cat, Mae had once thought privately, who discounted the rumor of tigers.” 2 likes
“The light stretches away from the windows as if it is bent on getting away, much the way Mae sees her shadow toiling outside of an afternoon, stretching itself out long and thin on the pavement in different directions by turns as if by perseverance alone it will one day surprise them both by snapping and rolling away.” 2 likes
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