Robinson…has discovered a story with as much to do with America’s present as America’s past.”
– Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post

Dawson’s Fall

Sarah Crichton Books
May 14, 2019
A cinematic Reconstruction-era drama of violence and fraught moral reckoning.

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 her family’s journal entries and letters with a novelist’s narrative grace, 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, a man of fierce opinions, came to this country as a young Englishman to fight for the Confederacy in a war he understood as a conflict over states’ rights. He later became the editor of the Charleston News and Courier, finding a platform of real influence in the editorial column and emerging as a voice of the New South. With his wife and two children, he tried to lead a life that adhered to his staunch principles: equal rights, rule of law, and nonviolence, unswayed by the caprices of popular opinion. But he couldn’t control the political whims of his readers. As he wrangled diligently in his columns with questions of citizenship, equality, justice, and slavery, his newspaper rapidly lost readership, and he was plagued by financial worries. Nor could Dawson control the whims of the heart: his Swiss governess became embroiled in a tense affair with a drunkard doctor, which threatened to stain his family’s reputation. In the end, Dawson—a man in many ways representative of the country at this time—was felled by the very violence he vehemently opposed.

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Praise for Dawson’s Fall

“Taken as a whole, the…story reads as a reflection of America in the years after the Civil War, defined by reinvention, race, and the ideal of honor.””
– Washington Independent Review of Books
A fascinating read, “Dawson’s Fall” illuminates the destructive antecedents some 150 years ago of racial tensions that remain with us today.”
– Portland Press Herald
How should a white writer write about whiteness? In no particular way. One sits with the truth, holds it, troubles it and writes as far into it as one’s pen will go. Robinson acknowledges that Frank Dawson ‘wrote to explain the world to itself’ and that, in the end, no explanation could suffice. Dawson’s Fall asks what truth means in an era when conviction matters more, and Roxana Robinson’s answer — that morality is friable — should make us sit up and tremble.”
– Katy Simpson Smith, New York Times
Using far-flung sources and excruciating care, she creates the map; her novelist’s skills render it in 3-D. Few Americans may have an ancestry as acutely divergent across the Mason-Dixon Line as Robinson has, but 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.”
– Carolyn Kellogg, Washington Post
Robinson conjures an era when the South was a hair-trigger place, obsessed with lost privilege.”
The New Yorker
Some set pieces, such as the Hamburg riot, are riveting, showing how a novelist can capture reality in a way that rouses a historian’s envy.”
– Harlan Greene, The Post and Courier
Robinson uses lynchings, duels, and sexual assaults to shed light on populism and toxic masculinity…A stylish and contemplative…novel, considerate of facts but not burdened by them.”
Kirkus, Starred Review