Before the Fall / Noah Hawley
Wednesday, August 10, 2016 at 03:06PM
Dark Scribe Magazine in Book Reviews

Grand Central Publishing / May 2016
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

Eleven people board a luxurious chartered jet on a foggy summer night for a doomed flight from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. Without a single mayday call, the jet plunges into the murky waters of the Atlantic after a mere sixteen minutes in the air, killing all but two of the passengers. Noah Hawley—writer and showrunner of the acclaimed FX series Fargo—sets the stage for Before the Fall exquisitely, and what follows is a complex and compulsive page-turner of a thriller.

Right from the outset, the reader knows he’s in good hands with Hawley at the helm of this intricately plotted novel that divides into parallel narratives following the opening crash. At the center of the story is the investigation into the crash itself, detailing the search and recovery efforts for the bodies of the presumed-dead passengers and scattered wreckage and the NTSB’s bid to piece the puzzling circumstances surrounding the crash—and its victims—together with the facts in order to arrive at some semblance of truth. Complicating matters is a bloodthirsty media—personified by an opportunistic, conservative news anchor who sees the tragedy as a means for personal gain and deflection from his own ethics breaches. Braided throughout this primary storyline are chapters that gradually and meticulously explore the back stories of the passengers who were on the ill-fated jet. Hawley deftly navigates between these intersecting storylines and character studies, masterfully adding details—some red herrings, others pertinent. Cleverly, he even manages to have his labyrinthine, non-linear narrative structure mirror one of the novel’s many key observations when his protagonist—a recovering alcoholic artist whose presence onboard the doomed jet brings about a maelstrom of vicious media speculation— contemplates, “What if instead of a story told in consecutive order, life is a cacophony of moments we never leave? What if the most traumatic or the most beautiful experiences we have trap us in a kind of feedback loop?”

Before the Fall is part whodunit and part meditation on the momentum of sudden celebrity and the dangerous pitfalls of an unchecked, biased media:

He thinks of Andy Warhol, who used to make up different stories for different journalists—I was born in Akron. I was born in Pittsburgh—so when he spoke to people he would know which interviews they’d read. Warhol, who understood the idea that the self was just a story we told. Reinvention used to be a tool of the artist. He thinks of Duchamp’s urinal, of Claes Oldenburg’s giant ashtray. To take reality and repurpose it, bend it to an idea, this was the kingdom of make-believe.

But journalism was something else, wasn’t it? It was meant to be objective reporting of facts, no matter how contradictory. You didn’t make the news fit the story. You simply reported the facts the way they were. When had that stopped being true? Scott remembers the reporters of his youth, Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Woodward and Bernstein, men with rules, men of iron will. And how would they have covered these events?

A private plane crashes. A man and a boy survive.

Information versus entertainment.

It’s to Hawley’s immense credit that his weighty thematic exploration of modern media and its distortion of truth for ratings—so relevant in today’s political climate—never overpowers or detracts from the novel’s thriller elements. The pacing is pitch-perfect, notably during the novel’s pulse-pounding climax during which Hawley intercuts between a live, on-air interview and the plane’s reconstructed cockpit voice recording.

Before the Fall—Hawley’s fifth novel—is a puzzle box that’s brimming with intrigue and brisk storytelling. It’s a tale of human tragedy and survival infused with scathing satire and an enthrallingly cinematic feel. Perfect for vacation—but perhaps not optimal in-flight reading material.

Purchase Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.

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