In Dawson’s Fall, a novel based on the lives of Roxana Robinson’s great-grandparents, we see America at its most fragile, fraught, and malleable. Set in 1889, in Charleston, South Carolina, Robinson’s tale weaves together her family’s journal entries and letters and spans the life of her tragic hero, Frank Dawson, as he attempts to navigate the country’s new political, social, and moral landscape.
...Dawson’s Fall is both rooted in its time and speaks directly to ours. It is also a moving love story between two people whose morality seems, from the perspective of 2019, sometimes to be muddied ... the book has an epic sweep. But it’s also grounded: Robinson vividly evokes settings in just a few sentences ... Here Robinson has pieced together a century-old true crime, a murder in which all the witnesses are long dead. Using far-flung sources and excruciating care, she creates the map; her novelist’s skills render it in 3-D ... the legacy of slavery and the Civil War is still being felt by our nation. Dawson’s Fall is a richly envisioned attempt to reconcile with that troubled history.
Sarah is a talented writer all-too-aware of women’s social inferiority ... While the patchwork approach means the narrative isn’t exactly smooth, it proves unyielding and compelling in its timely themes, with many depictions of how white men’s seething resentment erupts into racist violence and how Southern codes of honor and toxic values, particularly slavery, corroded individual lives and the national character.
Part history, part family saga, the book peers into the cauldron of race as it simmered and flared during Reconstruction in the South ... A fascinating read, Dawson’s Fall illuminates the destructive antecedents some 150 years ago of racial tensions that remain with us today. I wished, at times, that Robinson had hewed a little less closely to fact. More invention might have given some scenes a harder edge, underlining what was so deeply at risk in the decades after the Civil War. That said, Dawson’s Fall pointedly makes the case that principles matter.