On March 18 1925, the most destructive tornado in US history swept through the Midwest, killing hundreds of people. This real-life tragedy forms the basis for FALLING TO EARTH, Kate Southwood’s stunning first novel.
The narrative opens just as the storm hits the fictional town of Marah, Illinois, destroying houses and ripping trees from the earth. By a quirk of fate, the Graves family is left completely unscathed, and neighbours who have lost everything react with bitterness to their good fortune.
A lesser writer might have been moved to describe the tornado in symbolic terms but Southwood’s approach is resolutely realist. As the book progresses, the prose becomes more reflective and delicate: Southwood sensitively depicts the Graves’ increasing isolation from the rest of the community, their initial relief curdling into a sense of survivors’ guilt. The climax is extraordinarily moving.