cover image Falling to Earth

Falling to Earth

Kate Southwood. Europa, $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-60945-091-5

Natural disasters are capricious and cruel, leaving some to sort through rubble while others sit comfortably by. In Southwood’s fine debut, a 1925 tornado devastates the small town of Marah, Ill., touching everyone—except for one family. On the day of the storm, the Graves children are at home, sick, their house untouched as the school collapses. Their father, Paul, holds tightly to a pole at his lumber yard, the only other building to escape unscathed. The book begins in chaos, introducing characters within and immediately after the storm: “There is no time to talk over what needs to be done.... People are where they are and their surroundings decide for them.” This sense of haphazard destiny pervades the novel, and the omniscient third-person allows Southwood tremendous latitude to investigate the Graves family from the inside out. Paul; his wife, Mae; mother Lavinia, and even toddler Homer attempt to reconcile their suspiciously charmed status. And with reconstruction underway, the community’s feelings of awe toward the lucky family gradually turns to envy as Paul sells lumber to those rebuilding, benefiting from their misfortune. Southwood grounds abstract notions of faith, community, luck, and heritage in the conflicted thoughts of her distinct and finely realized characters. Agent: Richard Parks, the Richard Parks Agency. (Mar.)