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Before the Fall


Before the Fall

You simply must read BEFORE THE FALL. I was put in the mind of THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY here, Dr. Strangelove there, and a whole bunch of other books I have read over the last 60 years that I still remember fondly. I can’t give you any higher recommendation than that. You also will want to plan your reading time, as you are going to want to read it in one sitting once you start. Noah Hawley, a veteran screenwriter and novelist, has created a complex thriller that tinkers with the traditional framework of the novel --- and, indeed, storytelling in general --- shifting time, characters, events and points of view, yet never leaving his story or his readers adrift. It is a remarkable and memorable accomplishment by any standard.

"BEFORE THE FALL is brilliantly constructed and wonderfully told.... This is a tale that will haunt you long after you read the last page, even as you wish the narrative was twice as long, for all the right reasons."

Hawley introduces us to a gaggle of instantly memorable characters mere minutes (pages) before he is going to kill almost all of them in a plane crash. They include a three-person flight crew; David Bateman, an extremely wealthy media mogul, along with his wife, two young children and the family bodyguard; and a successful but somewhat nervous attorney and his significant other. Scott Burroughs is the oddball of the group, being a less-than-successful forty-something painter who is seemingly adrift at this point. The flight is supposed to be a short one that takes the group from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. But when the plane does not arrive at its intended destination, a search is conducted and reveals that it has crashed en route.

Miraculously, two people have survived: Scott and four-year-old JJ, the Batemans’ younger son. In the aftermath of the accident, Scott tows JJ several miles through unfamiliar waters to Montauk, rescuing both of them in spite of his injuries. He is initially hailed a hero, though questions arise in the news media and law enforcement. What caused the plane to go down? How did Scott wind up on that flight? How is it that he survived and managed to bring JJ --- who, it is now revealed, is the sole heir to the Bateman fortune --- to safety? Hawley answers all of these questions at his own pace and in his own due time, giving us the background of each of the plane’s passengers, how they came to be on this ill-fated flight, and what ultimately caused the crash to occur.

These accounts are interspersed with Scott’s own story moving forward. We learn that while he is an artistic but somewhat lost soul, he takes his inspiration from an individual and an event he witnessed by happenstance as a child. Current circumstances, though, are buffeting him, as he slowly and uncomfortably adjusts to what becomes his newfound celebrity status, which does not arrive without notoriety in some corners. It seems that almost everyone wants a piece of him, except for the young boy who he saved and with whom he will forever have a special and unique bond. As Hawley reveals the details of the crash --- what occurred before the fall --- Scott makes a final stand against those who question his motives.

BEFORE THE FALL is brilliantly constructed and wonderfully told. This is no surprise to those of us familiar with Hawley’s screenplay work (the “Fargo” television series, to name just one), but the novel should inspire readers to search for his literary backlist. This is a tale that will haunt you long after you read the last page, even as you wish the narrative was twice as long, for all the right reasons.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 2, 2016

Before the Fall
by Noah Hawley

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1455561797
  • ISBN-13: 9781455561797