Book Review: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  Grand Central Publishing

Summary:   On a foggy summer night, eleven people--ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter--depart Martha's Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear 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 a wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.
With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy 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 crash heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely 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--all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

This was a quick and riveting read. I devoured it in a day. The set up is great, a plane, out of the Vineyard, crashes and only two people survive. Scott, an artist who paints catastrophes and JJ, the four year old son of one of the moguls aboard. What happened to cause the crash is the big question but what also unfurls is a story about media culture and the public's voracious appetite for more chum and the incessant churn.

We get chapters give us the background of those who perished in the crash and current looks in at the survivors and flashbacks of the moments leading up to the crash. The reveal of the precipitating incident was well done but I did feel it was given a bit short shrift. Or it could be possibly that the main point was all else revealed about people before that moment.

Our main character Scott, had a life long fascination with Jake Lelanne which inspired him as a child to become a dedicated swimmer. That action and his belief in Lelanne's determination is what saves he and JJ that awful night. Throughout the book there are callbacks to Lelanne's television persona and it's in stark juxtaposition to infotainment king and alphahole extraordinare, Bill Cunningham. Cunningham's boss and friend was David Bateman (father of JJ) and takes it upon himself to decide what's a crime and who's a criminal. And what was even more nauseating is this guy wasn't motivated by grief. His motivation was pure self advancement. He sets his sights on Scott and for the main of the story is just about the worst human being we get to know. But the contrast between he and LeLanne and their audiences are one of the best things this book does. From the nation tuning in to Jack Lelanne giving them a positive view of the world and how to be their better, fitter selves to the nation tuning in to Bill Cunningham giving them a confirmation of their deepest fear that everything has gone to hell and those who know it are in some deeply endangered minority. It's as much an indictment on the media as its audience. Fascinating story, especially as we live in a time where televised media give reports based on tweets and things followed by the caveat "this is unconfirmed" & "we haven't confirmed this but...".

All my questions were answered except the one that provided the best moment of laughter. While on his epic swim and thinking of Lelanne, Scott thinks that if he survives this he'll send a fruit basket to Mrs. Lelanne and he laughed at the thought of standing in Edible Arrangements signing the card. He had a lot going on in the book but it seems that Mrs. Lelanne didn't get that basket after all. Oh well. This is the perfect story to become a summer series. with the whole story told in ten episodes. Definitely recommended. If you take it on a vacation (maybe not if you're flying), do take another book as well as this one won't take you long.

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