Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 31, 2016
Genre(s): fiction, mystery, suspense, thriller
Format & Length: audiobook, 12:55:46
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New York Times Bestseller From the Emmy, PEN, Peabody, Critics’ Choice, and Golden Globe Award-winning creator of the TV show Fargo comes the thriller of the year.
On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.
With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.
Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.
The blurb for Before the Fall is not particularly vague or misleading, and yet for some reason, this book turned out to be not at all what I expected.
“Life is a series of decisions and reactions. It is the things you do and the things that are done to you. And then it’s over.”
I had been eagerly anticipating reading this for some time, and actually borrowed the hardcover from my library back in December but overestimated how many books I could read during the holiday season before the due date and wound up returning it unread. Then earlier this June I was browsing for an audiobook from my library’s app and Before the Fall popped up! Since it was available at the time, I promptly downloaded and began listening.
The first few chapters of this novel hooked me. It starts out with the characters boarding their plane and ultimately crashing. After the crash, it jumps from the present following the survivors’ stories to the past to get each character’s backstory and uncover the events leading up to the main event. These characters were unique and developed, particularly Scott (who I also found to be quite empathetic). Hawley’s writing style superbly mixed realistic dialogue with spot on descriptions, and flowed quite nicely. Interspersed with the narrative were sections describing paintings, the writing style for which were overwrought and flowery the way art descriptions tend to be. It is obvious Hawley is an accomplished writer.
If asked to rate this book halfway through, I would have given it a full five out of five. Unfortunately, during the last quarter or so, I found myself just wanting it to be over with already. (Possibly if I had read a physical copy at my own pace, I may have felt differently.) Then the last couple chapters felt inordinately rushed, and the ending left me underwhelmed. It almost feels like the author just tried to do too much within the context of a novel. Instead of having one concise theme, there were multiple strands, most of which weren’t completely followed through on. I can, however, totally see this being turned into a dramatic miniseries, which is not surprising in the least given Hawley’s background.
Although I think I would have preferred to physically read Before the Fall, Robert Petkoff’s narration of the audiobook was spot on. If audiobooks are your thing, give this one a go in that format. Otherwise, I’d borrow a physical copy from the library.