What a story!
Scott Burroughs lives on Martha’s Vineyard. He has a small cottage with a barn, where he paints. At one time, he had hoped to become a great painter. But he’s now in his late 40s, his painting career demolished by self-doubt and alcoholism. He’s reached deep down inside to find what may be a last burst of effort, and it looks to be paying off. He’s painting some of the best pictures he’s ever done.
He has to go to New York to meet with a gallery owner. A woman he’s met at the local farmer’s market, Maggie Bateman, invites him to fly with her and her family back to New York. Her husband, David, is head of a network that sounds a lot like Fox. They have two children, Rachel who’s 9 and J.J. who’s 4. Also on board are a banker and his wife and three crew members. Scott’s taxi doesn’t show, and he takes the bus, almost missing the waiting plane.
The short flight turns out to be a lot shorter than expected. Eighteen minutes after takeoff, the plane crashes into the ocean. Scott, disoriented, finds himself in the water. He doesn’t remember what happened but he knows the plane has crashed. It’s night. He knows he must be miles from shore. He starts preparing himself to swim. And then he hears a cry. There’s one other survivor – four-year-old J.J., who’s clinging to a seat cushion. Scott will make his swim, with J.J. clinging to his back. He becomes a national hero.
But the lead news commentator on David Bateman’s network is suspicious. So are some of the government agents involved, especially the FBI. The news commentator begins to make insinuations and accusations. And what grows increasingly clear is that the plane crash wasn’t due to mechanical problems or failure.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley is a riveting, can’t-put-it-down novel published in 2016. Haley tells the story using backward and forward looks at the people on the plane – a powerful network mogul and his wife; their daughter Rachel who was kidnapped (and found unharmed) when she was 2; the banker and his wife who had just discovered he was to be indicted for money laundering; the Israeli-born bodyguard for the Bateman family; the pilot, co-pilot, and flight attendant; and the painter. Somewhere in the stories of these people lies the reason why the plane crashed. And the author spools the story out like scenes from a movie.
A sub-plot and sub-theme of the book is contemporary journalism, or what passes for journalism. Published before the 2016 national election, the book quietly focuses at how news is made and how it’s often manufactured by the very people who are supposed to be reporting it – something often referred to today as “fake news.” The FBI agent also doesn’t come across as completely professional, either.
Hawley has published three other novels: The Punch,The Good Father, Other People’s Weddings, and A Conspiracy of Tall Men. He is also a screenwriter and producer, best known for being the creator of Fargo. He’s received Emmy, Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice, and Peabody awards for his work.
Before the Fall is something of a popular fiction contradiction. Not only is it fast-paced and a terrific read, it’s also profoundly thought-provoking. It raises questions about what news is, how it’s reported, the biases of investigators, and the free rein given to so-called news commentators. And it’s a story of how a lost, broken man finds himself again.