Suspense more than “killer-thriller.”
Before the Fall is a ‘who done it’ story without suspense but with mystery. A reader is taken along a path where they may begin to question the basic premise of the story. Did the protagonist, Scott, actually have anything to do with the event?
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 the painter Scott Burroughs and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.
Was it by chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something more sinister at work? A storm of media attention brings Scott fame that quickly morphs into notoriety and accusations, and he scrambles to salvage truth from the wreckage. Amid trauma and chaos, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy grows and glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, morality, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.
The ‘synopsis’ suggests there is much more to the book than meets the eye. This is definitely arguable.
The story is a simple one: a plane carrying VIP’s, rich, influential big whigs, crashes. A middle-aged artist survives, also saving a four-year-old boy. The big wrinkle is the boy inherits an estate worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He definitely is worth saving if you can become his foster parent.
Scott, an artist of questionable success, becomes linked to the aunt and uncle who are likely to become the foster parents. Now the plot thickens. The marriage of the foster-parents-to-be is on the rocks. Scott is liked by the aunt and the fondness is reciprocal.
There may be questions of morality if one examines the various living figures in the story. Questions of fate, ties binding us to other people, maybe not so much. The book may push some readers into questioning the existence of fate, destiny, luck, even the existence of God and God’s degree of involvement with the way the universe and questions of that sort. In that regard, the book becomes a springboard to soul searching, meditation and introspection.
The power of the story to hold a reader’s attention and focus is debatable. The story’s layout is simple. The plane was modern, sleek, had passed all checks and on a flight with no obvious big risks. So why did it crash? As the story unfolds, that the crash was not equipment failure becomes more and more acceptable. Therefore, which of the adults may have had a reason for causing the crash? But even that question is a challenge for if one of the passengers caused the crash, how did that person plan to survive?
There was a survivor, the failed artist. An alcoholic on the wagon, a struggling painter living a borderline income life. Saving the heir of a vast fortune could open a door to a totally different life. Becoming the foster parent of the 4-year-old heir would become a financially life-altering change. The question soon becomes not one of was it so but more of how could it be done?
The book’s TV host moves the plot along in that direction with staccato paced progression. So much so that if there were no introspection into the mind of the artist, one would begin to suspect that such a plot was possible. Entertaining questions. Interesting considerations.
Noah Hawley is an award-winning author, screenwriter and producer. He has published four novels, scripted a feature film, and been extensively involved with writing, producing and being the executive behind a number of well-known TV shows, the FX award-winning TV series Fargo, as an example. In short, Hawley is no literary slouch.
Therefore, Before the Fall cannot be treated lightly or dismissed as fluff or bad writing. There is too much experience behind the story. So the question becomes ‘What makes this book readable?’
The plot is presented in a plausible and persuasive way. It seems possible. It could be so.
The examination of each character as the potential assassin becomes credible when each life is given a microscopic examination. Basically, greed and/or power are believable motives. The plausibility of the motivation makes the plot interesting and persuasive. The book becomes readable for that reason.
The writing is polished and professional with vocabulary which may require some readers to keep their Oxford within arm’s length. However, beyond the professionalism of the prose and the elevated vocabulary, the writing has a pace about it and a theme that halts the reading and diverts the focus to more existential examination. Many paragraphs digress from expected narrative into an unexpected questioning of life, fate and morality. The reader may first steps into inspecting other people’s lives, but momentarily, but self-examination and self-introspection become inevitable and unavoidable. Repeatedly.
Hawley is superb at making the reader stop to think and in so doing the book rises to a higher level of quality. The writing style, the pace of the prose, the undulation of the vocabulary make the book readable but the theme behind the story kicks the book to an even higher plane.
4 stars, unreservedly.