Here’s something weird. I read this book a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t put it down. I kept talking about how great it was and how much I loved it. And then I kind of forgot about it, and just moved on to the next book. Which, considering that Noah Hawley is mostly known as a TV writer, sort of makes sense: Finish up one episode, and get ready for the next.
You may know Noah Hawley as the mastermind behind the amazing Fargo. Or maybe from his cult series The Unusuals. He also wrote for Bones and a few other shows, and is behind the new Marvel show Legion that starts soon. (Tonight? I think?). He’s great at presenting regular people in unusual situations and showing how they react, both positively and negatively, and how their decisions may or may not affect their lives and the lives of those around them.
And that’s pretty much how Before the Fall plays out. A bunch of semi-random, semi-famous people get on a private jet on Martha’s Vineyard, for a quick flight to New York. Completely normal. Only this flight crashes into the Atlantic and only two people survive, a struggling artist and the 4 year old son of a cable news tycoon.
What brought these people together? What actions led them to getting on this plane? Was the crash an accident or something more sinister? What happens to the survivors? What makes a hero? And who gets to decide? These are the questions Hawley attempts (and mostly succeeds) to ask and answer in the chapters that follow the plane crash.
The book moves quickly and grabs you immediately. But it is impossible to forget that Hawley works in TV. Almost every chapter reads as if it is being presented as an episode of television, and that Hawley’s book is simply the precursor to his screenplay for his next series. This stylistic choice is both a criticism and, at the same time, a compliment.
The book moves quickly and the reader constantly wants to know what’s going to happen next. The POV changes frequently, and it jumps around in time from before the crash to after the event constantly. There are characters we love and others that we hate. This book is nearly impossible to put down.
And yet, the fact that it was written like a screenplay was constantly at the back of my mind. Why didn’t Hawley simply go to FX and say, hey, I’ve got an idea for your next show? I’m not sure I get it.
While I’m not 100% sure I’d seek out another novel by Hawley, I’ll continue to watch anything he produces on TV. And I’m sure we’ll be watching this story soon enough.
3 1/2 stars.