cover image Dawson’s Fall

Dawson’s Fall

Roxana Robinson. FSG/Crichton, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-13521-8

Robinson (Sparta) bases her formidable novel on the lives of her great-grandparents, exposing the fragile and horrific state of affairs in the American South two decades after the end of the Civil War. Frank Dawson is a principled English Catholic who fought for the Confederacy. But he is committed to promoting equal rights, rule of law, and pacifism in the pages of his newspaper, the Charleston News and Courier, and struggles against the simmering rage and continued violence of many white South Carolinians. He’s losing subscribers and facing financial uncertainty. His bright, like-minded wife, Sarah, whose own slave-owning family was ruined by the war, forges on with their respectable—if high-minded—ways at home, employing white servants and speaking French at the dinner table. But when Hélène, a young Swiss woman hired to care for the Dawson children, becomes enamored with an unscrupulous doctor, resentment flairs and events spiral out of Dawson’s control. The interspersed family letters and newspaper articles, while intriguing, seem spliced rather than woven into a narrative that leaps by years before settling on one fateful day in March 1889. But Robinson’s descriptive and imaginative prose sings; this book is a startling reminder of the immoral and lasting brutality visited on the South by the institution of slavery. (May)