Tag Archives: Falling to Earth

Book Review: Falling to Earth by Kate Southwood

Falling to Earth by Kate Southwood (Europa Editions; 264 pages; $16).


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 phenomena.

Southwood sets her tale in Marah, Illinois, in 1925.  Not only does she adequately depict life in a Midwestern small town full of proud, hardscrabble people, but she also brings a real event to vivid and terrifying life: the historic Tri-State tornado that devastated the town of Marah and then tore a destructive swath through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.  At the time, it was the deadliest tornado in American history, killing 695 people and injuring 2, 027.

The tornado hit on March 18, 1925, and Falling to Earth begins moments before the tornado strikes.  “The cloud is black, shot through with red and orange and purple, a vein of gold at its crest,” Southwood writes.  The tornado is “a mile wide end to end.”  The “people in the town scatter; some find shelter.  The men and women running through the streets are mothers and fathers, desperate to reach their children at the schools.  There is no time; the cloud is rolling over them.”  Many scream, but the wind “screams louder” as the “school, the town hall, the shops at the rail yard fold in on themselves and the people inside.”  Once “the cloud passes, the fires begin, lapping at the broken town.”

This electrifying opening sets the stage for what is to come.  Southwood never lets up but takes readers on a swiftly-paced ride to a shocking conclusion, illustrating the brutal and arbitrary state of nature and, sometimes, of people.

Paul Graves, Southwood’s central character, counts himself and his family lucky.  While his friends and neighbors lose loved ones, businesses, and homes, Paul survives the tornado unscathed.  He and his family are not even injured, and Paul’s home and his business are undamaged.  As the shaken and shattered townspeople of Marah come together to rebuild their lives and their community (without social media to aid them, I might add), they cannot help but look for someone to blame.

The citizens of Marah feel jealous of Paul.  He has everything while their whole world is crumbling.  They have nothing.  Paul experiences overwhelming guilt over his survival, and that sensation only magnifies as his business prospers during the town’s resurgence.   Soon, though, the townspeople come to resent Paul and his good fortune and grow hostile toward him and his family.  The consequences are tragic.

Southwood’s themes are universal ones: love, family, loss, death, mourning, guilt, and distrust.  Falling to Earth is an elegiac tale, yet pockets of hope exist in this story and in Marah, just as they do everywhere, even in times of utter destruction.  Humans have mastered so much in this world of ours, yet we still have not bested nature.  Mother Nature still reigns over us and perhaps always will.

Sometimes our true selves are only revealed in times of crises, and that is certainly the case in Falling to Earth.  Southwood’s characters are in such pain that it moves us and twists our hearts, but in no way does their grief excuse their actions.  Falling to Earth forces us to take a good look at ourselves and how we would react in a similar situation.  When Southwood injects the most human of emotions—jealousy and suspicion—into her story, she makes it all the more gritty, weighty, and real.

Falling to Earth is a powerfully moving and affective debut, and that is why Barnes and Noble chose it as a Discover Great New Writers selection for spring.  Certain passages describing the dead are difficult to read, but a little discomfort is well worth it, for Southwood is a bright new literary talent.


I am giving away a brand new copy of Falling to Earth.  Giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on Monday, March 11 at 3 pm ET.  Please fill out the brief form below.  Good luck!




Filed under book giveaway, book review, books, fiction, historical fiction, history, literary fiction

March Fiction To Put A Spring In Your Step

Each year, March fiction dazzles, and 2013 is no different.  These are the March titles I am most excited about.

Available now in hardcover and coming to Kindle March 4 from W.W. Norton & Company is the new novel from Jennifer Cody Epstein titled The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.  Epstein previously wrote The Painter from Shanghai.

gods of heavenlyA lush, exquisitely rendered meditation on war, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment tells the story of several families, American and Japanese, their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses, and how they are all connected by one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.  In this evocative and thrilling epic novel, fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan’s New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm—an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours and half the city in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy: Cam, a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army; Anton, a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo’s prewar skyline but is now charged with destroying it; and Billy, an Occupation soldier who arrives in the blackened city with a dark secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will shape Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption.

Coming March 5 from Europa Editions is the highly anticipated debut, Falling to Earth, by Kate Southwood.  Barnes and Noble chose this novel as a Spring 2013 Discover Great New Writers selection.  I have read this book and will be reviewing it next week.  Be sure to check then for a giveaway of a new and unread copy.


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. By nightfall, hundreds will be homeless and hundreds more will lie in the streets, dead or grievously injured. Only one man, Paul Graves, will still have everything he started the day with –– his family, his home, and his business, all miraculously intact.  Based on the historic Tri-State tornado, Falling to Earth follows Paul Graves and his young family in the year after the storm as they struggle to comprehend their own fate and that of their devastated town, as they watch Marah resurrect itself from the ruins, and as they miscalculate the growing resentment and hostility around them with tragic results.

Another highly anticipated debut hits shelves March 5–Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi from Penguin Press.  I am reading this now and continue to be awed by this young woman’s prose and talent.


Kweku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of Kweku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before. Ghana Must Go is their story. Electric, exhilarating, beautifully crafted, Ghana Must Go is a testament to the transformative power of unconditional love, from a debut novelist of extraordinary talent.  Moving with great elegance through time and place, Ghana Must Gocharts the Sais’ circuitous journey to one another. In the wake of Kweku’s death, his children gather in Ghana at their enigmatic mother’s new home. The eldest son and his wife; the mysterious, beautiful twins; the baby sister, now a young woman: each carries secrets of his own. What is revealed in their coming together is the story of how they came apart: the hearts broken, the lies told, the crimes committed in the name of love. Splintered, alone, each navigates his pain, believing that what has been lost can never be recovered—until, in Ghana, a new way forward, a new family, begins to emerge.  Ghana Must Go is at once a portrait of a modern family, and an exploration of the importance of where we come from to who we are. In a sweeping narrative that takes us from Accra to Lagos to London to New York, Ghana Must Go teaches that the truths we speak can heal the wounds we hide.

Sam Lipsyte, author of the bestselling book The Ask, is back March 5 with The Fun Parts, published by FSG.  A hilarious collection of stories from the writer The New York Times called “the novelist of his generation.”  Returning to the form in which he began, Sam Lipsyte, author of the New York Times bestseller The Ask, offers up The Fun Parts, a book of bold, hilarious, and deeply felt fiction. A boy eats his way to self-discovery while another must battle the reality-brandishing monster preying on his fantasy realm. fun partsMeanwhile, an aerobics instructor, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, makes the most shocking leap imaginable to save her soul. These are just a few of the stories, some first published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, or Playboy, that unfold in Lipsyte’s richly imagined world.       Other tales feature a grizzled and possibly deranged male birth doula, a doomsday hustler about to face the multi-universal truth of “the real-ass jumbo,” and a tawdry glimpse of the northern New Jersey high school shot-putting circuit, circa 1986. Combining both the tragicomic dazzle of his beloved novels and the compressed vitality of his classic debut collection, The Fun Parts is Lipsyte at his best—an exploration of new voices and vistas from a writer Time magazine has said “everyone should read.”

a-tale-for-the-time-being2.jpg The magnificent Ruth Ozeki has a new novel coming out March 12 from Viking.  I have read this one and it’s ambitious, imaginative, and brilliant!  Look for my review soon.  “A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”  In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.  Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.  Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

Bloomsbury USA will release This Magnificent Desolation by Thomas O’Malley on March 19.  Duncan’s entire world is the desolationorphanage where he lives, a solitary outpost on the open plains of northern Minnesota. Aged ten in 1980, he has no memories of his life before now, but he has stories that he recites like prayers: the story of how his mother brought him here during the worst blizzard of the century; the story of how God spoke to him at his birth and gave him a special purpose.  Duncan is sure that his mother is dead until the day she turns up to claim him. Maggie Bright, a soprano who was once the talent of her generation, now sings in a San Francisco bar through a haze of whisky cut with sharp regret. She often finishes up in the arms of Joshua McGreevey, a Vietnam vet who earns his living as part of a tunneling crew seventy feet beneath the Bay. He smells of sea silt and loam, as if he has been dredged from the deep bottom of the world – and his wounds run deep too.  Thrown into this mysterious adult world, Duncan finds comfort in an ancient radio, from which tumble the voices of Apollo mission astronauts who never came home, and dreams of finding his real father.  A heart-breaking, staggering, soaring novel, This Magnificent Desolation allows a child’s perspective to illuminate a dark world, and explores the creeping devastation of war, the many facets of loneliness, the redemptive power of the imagination, and the possibility of a kind of grace.
spotsViking releases The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma on March 21.  An inventive and witty debut about a young man’s quest to become a writer and the misadventures in life and love that take him around the globe.  From as early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable—yet hopelessly earnest—narrator of this ambitious debut novel has wanted to become a writer.  From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of his greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian’s enchanting friend, Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma’s narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies.  As much a story about a young man and his friends trying to make their way in the world as a profoundly affecting exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards will appeal to readers of Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists and Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize–winning A Visit from the Goon Squad with its elegantly constructed exploration of the stories we tell to find out who we really are.

The sequel to Danielle Trussoni’s AngelologyAngelopolis comes out March 26 from Penguin.  I devoured Angelology when it came out and am eager to read the second novel in the trilogy.  


The sequel to the New York Times bestselling Angelology will thrill fans of Deborah Harkness, Justin Cronin, and Elizabeth Kostova.  Hailed by USA Today as “a thrill ride best described as The Da Vinci Codemeets Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Danielle Trussoni’s bestselling first novel,Angelology, wove biblical lore, the Orpheus myth, and Milton’s Rebel Angels into a present-day world tinged with the divine supernatural. The novel plunged two endearing loners—art historian V. A. Verlaine and Evangeline, a beautiful young nun—into an ancient battle between a secret society and mankind’s most insidious enemies: angel-human hybrids known as the Nephilim.  Now a decade has passed since Verlaine saw Evangeline alight from the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of her wings a betrayal that haunts him still. The Nephilim are again on the rise, scheming to construct their own paradise—the Angelopolis—and ruthlessly pursued by Verlaine in his new calling as an angel hunter. But when Evangeline materializes, Verlaine is besieged by doubts that will only grow as forces more powerful than even the Nephilim draw them from Paris to Saint Petersburg and deep into the provinces of Siberia and the Black Sea coast. A high-octane tale of abduction and liberation, treasure seeking and divine warfare, Angelopolisplumbs Russia’s imperial past, modern genetics, and the archangel Gabriel’s famous visitations to conceive a fresh tableau of history and myth that will, once again, enthrall readers the world over.

life after life jillJill McCorkle’s new book, Life After Life, hits shelves March 26.  Life After Life is A Shannon Ravenel Book.  Jill McCorkle s first novel in seventeen years is alive with the daily triumphs and challenges of the residents and staff of Pine Haven Estates, a retirement facility, which is now home to a good many of Fulton, North Carolina s older citizens. Among them, third-grade teacher Sadie Randolph, who has taught every child in town and believes we are all eight years old in our hearts; Stanley Stone, once Fulton s most prominent lawyer, now feigning dementia to escape life with his son; Marge Walker, the town s self-appointed conveyor of social status who keeps a scrapbook of every local murder and heinous crime; and Rachel Silverman, recently widowed, whose decision to leave her Massachusetts home and settle in Fulton is a mystery to everyone but her. C.J., the pierced and tattooed young mother who runs the beauty shop, and Joanna, the hospice volunteer who discovers that her path to a good life lies with helping folks achieve good deaths, are two of the staff on whom the residents depend.  McCorkle puts her finger on the pulse of every character s strengths, weaknesses, and secrets. And, as she connects their lives through their present circumstances, their pasts, and, in some cases, through their deaths, she celebrates the blessings and wisdom of later life and infuses this remarkable novel with hope and laughter.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, published by St. Martin’s Press.  This is going to be big.  I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we’re ruined, Look closer…and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed.  When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is zseventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.  What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.  Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it. 

You’ve just seen my picks for Best Books of March. 

Which of these books are on your TBR list?  What other March titles are on your radar?  I’d love to know!

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Filed under books, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, short story collection, women's lit