Here is my book review for the summer thriller Before the Fall by Noah Hawley!
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
“The truth needs a hero.”
On a foggy summer night, eleven people depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes into the flight, the unthinkable happens. The only survivors include Scott, a down on his luck painter, and JJ, the four-year-old son of a very wealthy and powerful media mogul. As the chapters weave between the aftermath of the tragedy and each passenger’s backstory, odd coincidences begin pointing to a conspiracy. As media outrage and accusations begin to escalate, readers are drawn closer and closer to the truth.
I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore, so I wasn’t familiar with the author for his work on the show Fargo; however, there is something so intriguing about reading a book from someone who typically writes screenplays and it definitely bore hallmarks of really good television writing. The story was so well-crafted and unfolded in such a way that days later I was still thinking about it! The marketing for this book leads you to believe that it is a fast-paced thriller/mystery, but it’s actually a slow-burning character study about how lives can collide in unexpected ways. The book also explores what it means to be the last man standing after a tragic disaster especially given the aggressive churning up and spitting out of individuals in the 24-hour news cycle, making this a highly relevant commentary on today’s society.
The story begins with the crash of a private plane into the ocean and the lengths to which one man, Scott, went to save himself and JJ, the only other survivor. While he is initially hailed as a hero by many, he just as quickly finds himself becoming a suspect in the eyes of others. Nestled within the main story of Scott trying to heal, understand what happened on the plane, and avoid all of the media scrutiny are vignettes of each of the other passengers. This background into their individual lives reveals their pasts, their secrets, and presents information about how they came to be on the plane as well as provides clues as to why the plane went down. Weaving in and out of the present and into those backstories truly enhanced the suspense as we begin to learn more about these people and realize that plenty of motives and suspects abound. This storytelling technique also painted just enough information about each character that you become even more invested in finding out what really happened on the plane without becoming overwhelmed by their presence or by the introduction of the handful of players that gradually enter the story to round out the investigation.
These skillful character portraits make it difficult to accept the ending. There is a lot of buildup towards a certain conclusion, and while, it can appear anticlimactic to some, I thought it gave credence to the larger message regarding the thin line between perception and reality. Speculation creates sensational and convoluted plots that can craft a far more entertaining version of events in order to drive views, clicks, and ratings. But sometimes, the simplest answer really is the answer, and when that doesn’t suit an agenda or incite conflict, it’s promptly dropped to make way for someone else who finds themselves in the media’s cross-hairs. Interestingly, I think this also plays into the reader’s own sense of reality as compared to the reality of these very wealthy, connected, and influential people. Their struggles are representative of those faced by people within their social standing and vastly different from the experiences and problems of the everyday every man. Scott is largely a conduit to understanding how in the blink of an eye, for better or for worse, life happens. Ultimately however, it’s the growing relationship between Scott and JJ that showcases the best of humanity and the bonds that can exist between us all. If we could all just exhibit genuine kindness to others, have faith in our fellow neighbor, and give each other the benefit of the doubt, the world would be a much more understanding place, all of which we need now more than ever.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and many of its messages. It’s not going to keep you up late on a nail-biting thrill ride, but it will definitely give you something to think about!