The Quivering Pen: "Southwood has remarkable control over the language on the page..."
Date: Aug 6 2013
I've had Kate Southwood's debut novel, Falling to Earth, in my towering, teetering To-Be-Read stack of books (aka Mt. NeverRest) for a long, long time––ever since I first mentioned it here at the blog in the November 2012 edition of Front Porch Books. This week, I finally had enough breathing room in my reading schedule to pick it up and turn past the first two pages I'd previously read. It is, in short, everything I'd hoped it would be. Southwood has remarkable control over the language on the page, dispensing it beautifully and patiently––despite the fact that Falling to Earth has an irresistible magnet of a plot hook. Here's the jacket copy from the book:
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.
While the tornado scene (which comes upon us quickly in the first chapter) is breathtaking in its fury, the most fascinating part of the story is how Paul Graves is shunned by the rest of his town for his good fortune. It's a clever reversal of the Biblical story of Job. Instead of being stripped of everything by God, Paul is divinely spared––and that's the worst thing which could have happened to him. The trailer for the novel is a simple one: historic photos of the devastating Tri-State Tornado of 1925 scroll across the screen as Southwood reads a short passage describing how Paul survives the storm by clinging to a telephone pole outside his lumber shop. Southwood has a mellifluous voice which belies the horror of the wind's devastation, described elsewhere in the novel in vivid images like “a woman is frozen, screaming under a tree at a child’s body caught high in its branches” and “trees have been snatched out of the ground like hanks of hair.” My one complaint with the video is that it's too short––something I rarely say about book trailers. Knowing what lies beyond the end of Southwood's narration, I would have liked her to share more with us. But then, I guess you wouldn't have the pleasure of discovering the words for yourselves. I'm only halfway through Falling to Earth, but I can already tell it's going to end up on my year-end Best Fiction of 2013 list.