First, let’s talk names. When I refer to Before the Fall here, I’m not referring to the 2004 German film or the manga series Attack on the Titan: Before the Fall. I’m not referring to the 2008 or 2015 movies of the same name, or the several less notable novels and short stories which also share the title. And don’t even get me started on things named After the Fall. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the thriller released at the end of this month by Noah Hawley, the guy who created the acclaimed TV series Fargo. Don’t let its forgettable name confuse you–this is a book to read.
Those who follow the blog know I’m not a fan of hype. Books with big hype never live up to their marketing promises, and reading them often leaves me deflated, once again angry at publishers for fearlessly over-promising me the moon in print. But Noah Hawley’s fifth novel, about a plane crash, about a man and a boy alone in an ocean at night, and the events leading up to that crash and just following it, is one of those rare reads living up to its hype.
So (spoiler alert? If you wanted to go in cold, this is a surprise in the first chapter, I think, and I’m sorry) this book is about a plane crash. It is about a man swimming with a boy on his back, plunging underneath a gigantic wave. But this isn’t no-frills thriller, a page-turner that leaves you hungry like bad Chinese food eaten too fast on a Friday night. This is a book about Jack LaLanne’s tailor-made sweatsuits, and paintings that you will never see that take your breath away, and a kidnapping. This is a book about corrupt men and innocent, beautiful women. As fast as you’ll want to chomp this down, it will leave you feeling full.
A private plane, a nine-seat OSPRY 45XR, takes off from Martha’s Vineyard, bound for New York. An extra passenger is onboard, in addition to the usual outlandishly wealthy businessmen and their families. A painter named Scott, who planned on taking the ferry into the city but was invited along at the last minute, has barely caught the flight. One minute, he is in the sky, mildly unnerved by the ridiculous luxury of private plane travel.
And then, the next moment, it seems, he’s in the sea.
We love survival stories. We gathered in theaters to watch men freeze to death on Everest, and to see a man cut off his own arm in 127 Hours. Before the Fall is more than a survival story, though. It is a story about how we live after survival. About how we consume each other, and things, for our own needs. What gets us through? And what doesn’t? Don’t forget this is a thriller, albeit a fleshy one. The question pounding through the book with false stops and starts is why the plane crashed. Told from the perspectives of those involved in the crash, and those investigating it in its aftermath, Hawley crystallizes life through laser-sharp details before zooming out for big picture stuff. A less talented author would have created just another thriller, choppy and imprecise. But Before the Fall is a full, wide-open story with big wings. Just be ready for those wings to fall off, and everything to come crashing down.