Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The main reason I wanted to read this is because I’m such a huge fan of the TV show Fargo. Noah Hawley is the main producer and writer responsible for transforming the great Coen brothers’ movie into something that has risen to the top of my viewing list even during this Golden Age of Television which has filled so many DVRs. If you haven’t seen it yet then watch it right now. Go on. We’ll wait. It’s only two seasons of ten episodes each so it won’t take you that long. Then you’ll be ready to properly appreciate Hawley’s talents. All done? Good. Let’s talk about the book then.
A private plane carrying eleven people crashes in the ocean shortly after takeoff from Martha’s Vineyard. A middle-aged painter named Scott Burroughs survives the impact and saves both himself and a small boy by making a miraculous swim to shore. Scott is at first hailed as a hero, but he wants only to be left alone. Since the plane was also carrying a media tycoon who ran a cable news network and a wealthy financial advisor who was about to be indicted for shady dealings there are a lot of questions about why it crashed. An opinionated bully of a political commentator from the news network uses his show to spin wild conspiracy theories as well as inciting a witch hunt against Scott for having the unmitigated gall to survive while rich and important people died.
There’s two parallel stories going on here. The first is a Bridge of San Luis Rey kind of thing where we follow the lives of the people on the plane as well as others impacted by the crash. The second involves Scott trying to cope with the crash and its aftermath. There’s also a mystery lurking in the background of what ultimately did happen on board the jet.
A lot of the history and reflections of the characters have to do with wealth. As a person who wasn’t rich and was essentially just hitching a ride because of a chance encounter there’s an interesting dynamic in that Scott was in this bubble of privilege for only moments before being thrown out of it violently. His lack of money and yet being with people who had it in that moment where their bank accounts couldn’t save them is seen as suspicious. The lingering presence of wealth hangs over the backgrounds and actions of the other characters, too. Everyone has to come to terms in some way with how money - serious money – is what makes the world go round. Here’s a bit I particularly liked:
“But money, like gravity, is a force that clumps, drawing in more and more of itself, eventually creating the black hole that we know as wealth. This is not simply the fault of humans. Ask any dollar bill and it will tell you it prefers the company of hundreds to the company of ones. Better to be a sawbuck in a billionaire’s account than a dirty single in the torn pocket of an addict.”
I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending which seemed rushed and as if it was kind of what Hawley wished could happen in this situation rather than what actually would. Still, this was a very well written story with many profound bits of wisdom about life, death, art, money, media, and air travel gone wrong. It’s the same kind of story telling skill he’s shown himself to be a master of on Fargo.
(I received a free copy of this from NetGalley for review.)
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