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The Book Nook

 

May 17, 2018



Fall into a comfortable seat for a fast read

“Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley is a contemporary character-driven novel that I found easy to pick up and put down as time allowed. I feel it falls into the “good read” category as I kept picking it up sooner than I’d planned to see what was happening in the story. A blurb from James Patterson says he read it in one sitting, so either he either shares my opinion or has an enviable amount of spare time.

There were several things I liked about this book, which was published in 2016. The plot was appealing, there was a mystery to solve and the story was laid out in a way that made it easy to visualize. The ease of visualization is probably due to the fact that the author has done a lot of writing for television and is used to presenting a narrative in a way that facilitates adaptation to the screen.

Speaking of television, Hawley is the showrunner for “Fargo” on FX, which means he’s ultimately responsible for many aspects of the final product. The show has won or been nominated for multiple awards such as the Primetime Emmy, Golden Globe and Writers Guild of America, among others.

Spoiler alert: if you don’t want to know the plot or the nature of the tragedy addressed here, skip the rest of this article and just read the book. You won’t regret it.

Reading the book jacket will tell you that the story is about a private plane crashing into the ocean. We know right away that most of the occupants will die, with only two survivors – an artist named Scott Burroughs and a young boy named JJ.

At first, Scott struggles with survivor’s guilt and how to handle his “15 minutes of fame”. Everyone wants a piece of him and he wants time to consider how much of himself he’s willing to give before responding. This doesn’t mesh well with the demand for instant information and he seeks refuge.

Before the crash he had hoped to succeed in the art world but could never quite get there. For too many years he indulged in a hedonistic lifestyle that was far from satisfactory. Now’s he’s unsure he agrees with those say he’s a hero.

Besides the concern of finding privacy to regroup, Scott is concerned about JJ. Without parents “the boy”, as he’s frequently referred to in the story, must live with relatives. Scott’s concerned about JJ’s well-being, especially after learning of his difficult coping with loss.

There are people who wonder why Scott was on a private jet in the first place and they raise doubts about his part in the tragedy. Was the accident a mere coincidence or was there a conspiracy? Why is it that so many influential people died? Scott’s life is about to get a lot more complicated as the authorities and media clamor for more information. The confusion about his role and his reactions to the media madness threatens to turn him from famous to infamous and makes the plot all the more intriguing.

I found this to be a believable thriller. There’s a good story with some twists and surprises. I appreciated the exploration of people’s good and bad sides and the author’s understanding that people are generally a mix of both. He uses this understanding of human nature to help explain tragedy and our reaction to it.

If I were to pick something I didn’t enjoy it was the lack of character development, but that’s a minor complaint. We’re able to follow the thinking of enough of the central characters to get a feel for their personalities, even if a few seemed one-dimensional. What I did like was the exploration of life’s seeming randomness and the effect of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story also explored the dark side of fame with an interesting choice of protagonist. The ugly side of media distortion was also presented, and I loved watching how damaging conjecture versus solid investigative reporting can be to someone’s reputation and life.

At times I felt the book was a modern take on the old whodunit mysteries and at other times I felt it was a new voice visiting the subjects of loss and the downside of instant fame.

Hawley was able to help us visualize each scene quickly and created characters that are like most people - not all good or bad, but with dreams and faults with which we can identify. It was fun seeing how characters reacted as the heat was turned up.

The bottom line for this one is that it’s a good, fast read with enough substance to engage your brain and plenty of twists for those who enjoy mysteries. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

 
 

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