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 at the same time to ask ourselves: Do we really need to?
Southwood touches on the aftermath of the largest tornado to ever hit the United States, the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925. This tornado killed almost seven hundred people. The author focuses on one town in Illinois called Marah, which lay directly in the path of the tornado. Of course, there is a lot of loss depicted in the book – death, sadness and the sense to rebuild everything in tragedy’s wake. At the same time, the book is about one family – the Graves family, who do not lose anything at all. Everyone is safe in their home. Their home and business are safe and intact. The only family in town that does not suffer.
What then follows in the book is resentment from the other people in town. The resentment arising from the fact that this family did not suffer. The town and its people cannot understand that and this leads to the family being alienated by the town. Kate speaks of crisis and what it does to people – the same people who once trusted you, do not anymore. The central character in the book – Paul Graves wants to do more and so does his family – for the community that is, however they aren’t allowed to. The consequences of the tornado are tragic for them as well – for surviving that is.
I love the way this book is written. Southwood does not give it to the readers all on a platter. She takes her time, building scenarios for the reader – you are aware of what is going to come and yet you are shocked when you get there. The characters, even the secondary ones are brilliantly sketched and you can almost see people you might know in them. The scary part for me while reading the book was how people change in times of adversity. The human behaviour shows itself and that to me was the crux of this novel. The universality of themes is something that every reader can connect with in the book, that of jealousy, love, loss, redemption and the human soul at the core of all of this.
I could not believe that this was a debut novel as I was turning the pages. It sure doesn’t come across as one. The language, the setting and the characters are beyond superlative and of course the uniqueness of the plot is what takes in the reader the most. To me that was the show-stealer. A great read this month.