When listing evocative American images, near the top would have to be Mother holding open the cellar door, as the kids scramble down the steps and dark clouds roll toward them across the plains. So opens FALLING TO EARTH, a debut novel from Kate Southwood, which takes as its inciting incident the true-life disaster that befell an entire swath of the Midwest on March 18, 1925. The “tri-state tornado” was the deadliest in U.S. history, and serves here, quite appropriately, as the hand of fate, devastating the entire town of Marah, Illinois, except for the homestead and lumberyard owned by Paul Graves. As the town slowly begins to recover and the people find that they must turn to the only standing lumberyard for materials, their resentment toward the Graves family simmers and threatens to boil over if Paul doesn’t properly nudge his own fate in a safer direction. It's an interesting story, but what's most exciting about Southwood's debut is her prose, which is reminiscent of Willa Cather’s in its ability to condense the large, ineffable melancholy of the plains into razor-sharp images, much like tornados themselves, as one character describes them: "Wide at the top and skinny at the bottom where they touch the ground and stir things up."