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Before the Fall Paperback – June 6, 2017
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"BEFORE THE FALL is a ravishing and riveting beauty of a thriller. It's also a deep exploration of desire, betrayal, creation, family, fate, mortality, and rebirth. It's one part Dennis Lehane, one part Dostoevsky. I was spellbound from first page to last; I haven't fully recovered yet."―Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours
"Noah Hawley really knows how to keep a reader turning the pages, but there's more to the novel than suspense. On one hand, BEFORE THE FALL is a complex, compulsively readable thrill ride of a novel. On the other hand, it is an exploration of the human condition, a meditation on the vagaries of human nature, the dark side of celebrity, the nature of art, the power of hope and the danger of an unchecked media. The combination is a potent, gritty thriller that exposes the high cost of news as entertainment and the randomness of fate."―Kristin Hannah, New York Times Book Review
"[A] terrific thriller...an irresistible mystery.. a tale that's both an intriguing puzzle and a painful story of human loss."―Patrick Anderson, Washington Post
"Imagine that Agatha Christie had set a closed-room mystery on an airplane and included Wall Street and entertainment executive types in her lineup of suspects. Now imagine that airplane crashing into the Atlantic before the story even gets going....Mr. Hawley, the expert TV showrunner, obviously had the skills to pull this off."―New York Times, "The Top Books of 2016"
"I started and finished BEFORE THE FALL in one day. That begins to tell you what kind of smart, compellingly dramatic read it is.
So read it."―James Patterson, #1 New York Times bestselling author and winner of the National Book Foundation's 2015 Literarian Award
"A masterly blend of mystery, suspense, tragedy, and shameful media hype...a gritty tale of a man overwhelmed by unwelcome notoriety, with a stunning, thoroughly satisfying conclusion."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A pulse-pounding story, grounded in humanity."―Booklist (starred review)
"BEFORE THE FALL is an astonishing, character-driven tour-de-force. The story is a multi-layered, immersive examination of truth, relationships, and our unquenchable thirst for the media's immediate explanation of unfathomable tragedy."―Karin Slaughter, #1 internationally bestselling author
"Savvy and absorbing... cathartic...BEFORE THE FALL is about the gulf that separates perception and truth, and the people who fall into it."―Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
About the Author
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Just as the plane falls from the sky, this story falls from grace when the author finds himself unable to resist launching a broad, ham-fisted swipe at Fox News. Fox News and its ascendence to the top of the ratings has time and again brought out the worst in the liberal progressive intelligentsia, and Mr. Hawley proves he too suffers from FDS, Fox News derangement syndrome.
The syndrome manifests itself in a number of ways in Before The Fall. The thinly veiled ALC News a stand in for Fox News channel. Shock news host Bill Cunningham an every more thinly veiled stand in for Bill O'Reilly. The author even went so far as to name Cunningham's attorney "Franken," a taunt at the long-running feud between O'Reilly and the one time SNL comedian Al Franken.
In Hawley's story, the Cunningham character is painted as an egotistical, manipulative and even dangerous buffoon, engaging in all manner of ethically corrupt and even illegal behavior to get at the TV host's version of the truth. Every liberal prejudice about Fox News and every tired myth the FDS afflicted suffer from comes rushing forth. There have been great novels in our time that have dealt with our celebrity media culture. Tom Wolfe's Bonfire Of The Vanities comes to mind. Where Wolfe paints with deft, satirical embellishments, Hawley slashes in crude cartoonish strokes.
It's sad, really, because Mr. Hawley is clearly a writer of the first rank. The Fox News angle and the O'Reilly component came off as petty and mean-spirited. As if the writer has a score to settle. But that's what Fox News success does to liberal elites. They simply can't help themselves.
The premise is great. It could have taken off like a rocket and kept you in thrall with such a good story idea. But it doesn't. I kept waiting to be psyched, page-turning like mad, but unfortunately, I found this way underwhelming and several chapters in began to wish I hadn't wasted my time to start with. The cliches, the dull descriptions, the lack of character development on any truly intimate, deeper level - not there. I've always read books for the interesting writing as much as the story. This one lacks both. Something tells me that because this writer is associated with "Fargo," he got green lights and nobody of any real taste in publishing read his book. They just figured "Fargo" was good, so this must be. NOT! Being a great novelist is a whole other bag than a good screenwriter. If you love good writing - or even a good yarn - don't waste your time.
The story: a rich family summering on Martha’s Vineyard charters a private jet to fly them to Teterboro. They are accompanied by a member of their security detail and they invite another rich couple and an artist with business to conduct in Manhattan to join them. The artist is poor compared with the mega-rich others. The plane crashes and the artist (Scott Burroughs) survives, along with the 4 year-old son of the charterers. Scott swims to Montauk in the dark in what may be shark-infested waters and saves the little boy, JJ. The novel then principally consists of the back stories of the people who drowned and about 40% of the way into the novel we begin to realize that the crash may not have been an accident. The other rich invitee aboard the plane was about to be arrested for money laundering. The charterer runs a conservative television network and may have been targeted for political reasons. His head of security is an Israeli with a complex, bloody past. The co-pilot has had some sort of relationship difficulty with the flight attendant, and so on. Hence the mystery elements—what really happened? Why did the plane crash? And the thriller element—if this was a revenge or terrorist (or some other form of) plot and the son and painter survived, perhaps they will be targeted again (except that there is no plausible reason to expect so, since the painter was invited aboard at the last minute and no long-term planner would have been expecting him to be there).
There are several related plots. JJ’s aunt, who will serve as his parent now, is married to a troubled, addled writer/cook; they disagree on the uses of the considerable inheritance that the aunt will manage. The charterer’s television network includes one host who has stepped over the line and wiretapped prominent individuals. While he draws huge ratings he is a loose cannon. (Perhaps he engineered the crash, since the network chief was leaning on him?) Toward the end of the book the aunt’s husband agrees to go on the loose cannon’s show, with possible fireworks to follow. Interestingly, the loose cannon’s name is Bill Cunningham; one wonders if the conservative Cincinnati talk show host, Bill Cunningham, is offended by this.
The writing is wonderful and the book examines the psychological and philosophic aspects of all of these actions, results and circumstances in depth. The artist, e.g., has recently produced some large paintings of individuals caught in unanticipated scenes of destruction. One, for example, is a portrait of a woman on a farm who does not see the tornado in the background which is coming for her. This all sparks the interests of the FBI, but the painter himself is much more fixated on the meaning of life and the manner in which violence intrudes, unexpectedly. He broods about such things, even as a mega-rich gallery owner/heiress attempts to charm him sexually. The aunt broods over questions of justice and whether or not all of the inheritance should be preserved for JJ, while she and her husband continue to live austerely.
Bottom line: the entire ‘feel’ of the book is philosophic and the mystery/suspense elements are secondary or even tertiary. The book seizes your attention and will take you into the late hours, reading, but prospective readers should be aware that this is not a conventional mystery story. It is, however, a very fine novel.
P.S. For admirers of the author’s wonderful series, FARGO, this book has nothing in common with the series, neither in the nature of the characters, plots and themes, nor in the narrative ‘ethos’.
Top international reviews
After a private plane crashes, the truth of what happened on board is eked out in fragments; clues and red herrings buried in exquisitely-rendered life stories of the passengers on board. The result, despite the way the novel has been marketed, is not a thriller (and the whodunnit may leave readers frustrated). Instead, it's the best kind of drama; rich and emotional, with raw human stories that propell the narrative onward.
Like others, I found the story easy to read and I was particularly taken with the suspenseful opening chapters. It was an intriguing tale, though not the thriller I'd expected it to be. I did enjoy reading about the back stories of the different characters though and it was interesting to read about the course their individual lives had taken leading up to the crash.
Within the story, Noah Hawley explores the media's (and the public's) obsession with certain news stories. The author makes some bang on observations regarding how 'news' is now broadcast and how the media, in many respects, actually makes and controls the news they are feeding to us - often proclaiming that the public has a right to know all the details. Although I had guessed the reason for the crash way before the 'reveal,' I did nevertheless enjoy the style of writing, and did find myself highlighting a number of passages throughout. Not quite worthy of five stars but I would still be tempted to read further works by this author.
Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with this book. It started off very addictive and breathtaking. However, then it goes to informing the story of each characters, which lead to no where or necessary. I was hoping for a clever twist at the end, but it never happened. It felt flat. Everyone did actually died apart from the two survivors. No conspiracy, no clever webbing. What happened to some of the intense characters? The sister called Eleanor and her marriage to Doug? The relationship with the boy, JJ? Was there more to Scott's relationship with Maggie, with Eleanor. The mystery character of Layla. A lot of unanswered questions and undeveloped characters.
Instead, I got a rather thin plot, a lot of inconsequential background, and an ending which simply would not have been allowed to happen.
It's an easy read - it'll only take a couple of hours. Unfortunately I can't honestly say that would be time well spent.
[SPOILER WARNING from hereon] Its strong points are that it's a genuine page-turner, as the central mystery of what led to the crash is very gradually revealed. It also taps into some key elements of general interest for its likely audience - the emergence of the super-wealthy class, the politicisation of 24 hour news channels, and the perils and problems of middle age. While these are enough to keep the reader engaged, the novel sadly doesn't have anything very interesting to say, as by the time we reach the rather lacklustre ending, it's clear that the main rightwing character in the story is a monster, that the Fox-type channel is wrong on all counts, and that our hero, despite all his grizzled flaws, really is as much of a hero as the protagonist of any other airport thriller. Mr Hawley chooses some very easy targets, and doesn't let any of them surprise us.
Hawley's success in other fields might have got him the good editor he needed, or it might have exempted him from editing. Sadly it feels like the latter was what happened. The attempts to alternate perspective are jarring, with some characters unable to support the weight of their allotted chapter of individual focus - the Israeli bodyguard is especially underdeveloped. Although the book is in part an attack on sexist attitudes, the female roles in the likely movie will not be particularly interesting or challenging. Brief shifts into historical detail (Jack Lalanne and the Montauk monster) are bluntly inserted into the narrative. The prose style is efficient enough for plot development, but not subtle enough to develop some of the deeper themes that are attempted. Finally, a book analysing the impact of the news media on modern life is remarkably uncurious and unreflective about how the scenario it sets up would play out in reality: the lead character, having survived an incident that would be on all national media, is extraordinary not only in his skill at avoiding the media, but also in avoiding almost anyone (except the implausibly helpful crash investigator) giving him any sensible advice at any point about how to deal with that until the last few pages of the book. No local mayor or politician or colleague of the deceased executive takes the chance, which they would surely seize on, to be his friend or offer advice. And yet, for all his naivete, and unsuitedness, when he does finally decide to take on the power of the media - well, yes, you guessed it.
There were two potentially interesting books here - the most prominent a pacy contemporary thriller with a touch of satire, the second a more reflective exploration of the values of the baby boomers and in particular of the connections between wealth, state power and news. What we have is an early draft which should have become one or the other, but sits awkwardly between the two. Nonetheless there is enough skill in the telling, and in particular in the plotting, to ensure most readers make it to the finish.
Noah Hawley has managed to produce an exquisite story that is made up of several layers and with a twists. The characters are "alive" and I found myself routing for 1 or 2 and really disliking quite a few of the characters. To the point where I felt genuine resentment towards them as if they were real people. It takes an incredible writer and an ingenious story to provoke such strong feelings towards an imaginary figure!
I sincerely hope that this novel is turned into a film or tv show as it has such depth and originality that it deserves to be picked up and produced for the big screen. I will certainly be reading much more from N. Hawley!
Great story, well written.
I highly recommend this book.