Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Artist Scott Burroughs and four-year-old JJ are the only two survivors of a plane crash into the Atlantic. What isn’t clear is why the plane went down (especially with two powerful men aboard) or how Scott and JJ survived. Before the Fall is about finding answers and about the media’s insatiable desire for gossip at all costs.
When I first read the description of this book, I couldn’t have been less interested. I thought, a plane crash? At the beginning? How could that possibly be interesting? But it turns out that it was actually very good and I kept wanting to read, right up until the very end.
The story is told through various points of view, cycling through the victims of the plane crash and what happened for them leading up to that fateful flight. We get to know each of the characters a little, and we discover enough about each of them to really give pause. Why did a plane with no documented mechanical problems go down, only eighteen minutes after takeoff? Was it sabotage? Terrorism? Human error? Something else entirely? Rest assured, we do eventually get the answers we’re looking for in that regard.
The bigger story, though, is really the media’s role in this whole disaster. If you’ve ever turned on the TV or looked at the covers of tabloids and magazines in the checkout line, you know the media is relentless. They want the inside scoop, whether it happens to be true or just some salacious gossip, and they don’t bother fact checking before publishing many of their claims (see, for example, repeated claims about certain celebrities being pregnant when they absolutely aren’t). Bill Cunningham is the cable news personality from everyone’s nightmares in this book, and he’s the kind of character with not a single likable trait. Every time he appeared in the story, I cringed.
The other big cringe-worthy character was Doug, JJ’s uncle by marriage. His responses were so completely inappropriate all the time and I just hated him! I really appreciated that the author was able to craft characters I felt so strongly about, even if my reaction was overwhelmingly negative.
As for Scott? I don’t really have much to say about him. He seems like an okay guy, but I didn’t love him or hate him. I didn’t connect with him very much, but he made a perfectly fine main character. Nothing wrong with him, but to me, he wasn’t obviously likable, aside from being in awe that he managed to survive a plane crash and save a boy (not really a spoiler, since this is in the official synopsis). And maybe that’s really the point — not all heroes are likable or all that interesting outside of their one-off act of heroism. Does that mean we shouldn’t admire them for what they did? Not at all, but should we hound them with paparazzi and intrude into their lives, searching for dirty secrets? Probably not.
I was surprised at how much I did enjoy this, especially since I expected it to be kind of boring. There was one point at which I did actually gasp out loud, as silly as that sounds, and I really appreciated the author’s ability to get a reaction that way. I gave this book four stars because while I did really like it, my inability to really care much for or about Scott, the main character, was kind of disappointing. Still, I do recommend this book!