Archive | 10:51 AM

Book Review: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (4/5)

17 Jan

I saved this book until the last minute to read for my book club, which isn’t like me. It made a good listen while my husband and I drove to Cincinnati for Christmas but I delayed finishing it until I realized how soon my club meeting was. Thankfully, I had some long runs and housework to do so I could listen to a large chunk of it in a week.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Summary from Goodreads:

On a foggy summer night, 11 people – 10 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.

As I like to do, I knew nothing about this book going into it. I didn’t even know it was about a plane crash. That made the whole thing even more exciting because I wasn’t ready for the aftermath of the fall or even who would live. I enjoyed Scott’s story and Hawley’s commentary on modern media. Scott was very much the ‘every man’ and I thought a painter was a good choice for that. Artists see the world through a different lens and Scott’s was very interesting. The commentary on modern media, especially larger-than-life media figures, was almost too heavy-handed for me. Bill Cunningham seemed like a very obvious Bill O’Riley character (I mean, the name, come on!) and as much as I agree that biased news is terrible, I didn’t think it was needed in this story. Though, that’s the only thing I’d take out. The rest of this book was well done and really enjoyable.

Scott was a very believable person and I liked him in this story. He had his demons, he messed up from time to time, but he was trying. He wanted to do the right thing and he spent a lot of time finding out what that was. One of the faults of the novel was pointed out to me by my husband. The rest of the characters were very polarizing. You liked Maggie,  you hated Ben. David was a bit in between, but he was mostly likable. I thought that was a bit unbelievable, that people aren’t so easily sorted into ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ I wish there had been a few more people that were hard to put your finger on.

Scott was my favorite character and that’s probably because he was so dynamic. You liked him for one thing he did despite the flaws he had throughout his life. While one action doesn’t make a person good, it can make him a hero. I liked exploring what this meant with Scott and how his demons haunted him even when he’d done something so incredible.

My husband laughed at me because I was comically involved in the early descriptions of Scott and swimming. Maybe that’s why I liked him so much. I related to the laps and the peace he felt in the water. I understood how he could swim as far as he did. I understood why he had trained himself to do that. I loved how he dove under the wave and I knew how he’d surface again. It was a great way for a water-lover like me to be introduced to a character and be thrown into a plot.

Noah Hawley
Image via Twitter

I enjoyed Emma’s flashback the best. She’s closest in age to me out of any of the characters and I thought her story said a lot about her character. She liked to have fun and party, but she was practical and smart. She had a degree in Finance, she was just enjoying life while she was young. The way she reacted to Charlie played well with her character and I liked how she described her feelings. I could see something like that happening to a friend of mine.

I thought the Ben Kipling plotline was a bit too much. It fizzled out very fast. Now, that may have been a part of the message on the media, that the dead are old news and while Kipling likely would have had more of a reason to crash the plane or been the reason for it, the media was going to focus on Scott because he’s still alive. I felt it could have been left out. Kipling could have been a ‘bad guy’ for another reason, or maybe he could have been a fine person but with a really aggressive macho-man personality. I would have still disliked him.

The audiobook was narrated by Robert Petkoff. I liked his narration well enough. I didn’t like the voice he used for women very much, it sounded very condescending. I know he didn’t mean it that way, but it came off as flippant and a bit aloof. I would listen to another book narrated by Petkoff but I’d prefer it be a book with primarily male narrators.

The media commentary was hard to ignore. David and Bill purposefully spun the news to be in their favor time and time again. People who had the same ideas as they did were heroes and patriots. Those who didn’t were suspected terrorists or ‘in it for the money.’ The arrogance he projected was unnerving and it made me honestly uncomfortable. It’s the same discomfort I feel watching news segments so I felt that was well written. I’ve taken to reading my news because I feel I’m less enraged by the opinions involved. Again, I thought Hawley addressed this well but I wasn’t sure it had its place in this story.

Writer’s Takeaway: The back-and-forth timelines of the book was really enjoyable. I was only tripped up a bit at the end when I couldn’t figure out the series of events when Gus figured out what happened and Scott was being interviewed. The rest of the time, I felt it was well done and very clear. It helped build tension and made the ending very eventful and exciting.

This was a really enjoyable book and it did make me take a closer look at the media I consume and how it affects me. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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