Last month over on Oohlo in discussing the season three finale of Noah Hawley’s television program Fargo I had the following comment: “Hawley is also never just telling us a plot, he’s crafting a story. Not everything we see moves the story along, but everything means something, grows out the larger themes.” As I was reading Before the Fall, I had the same feeling about his literary work.
On the surface this is a story about a plane crash and the people who perished and survived. But there’s much more just under the surface (yep I’m leaving that one in too) as the story gets past the initial plot points of crash and survival of painter Scott Burroughs and four year old J.J. Bateman. Embedded in the book are at least one hero, more than one “bad” guy, as well as survival’s guilt, and how we choose to view and consume media about people.
There have been several reviews of this book already, but I find myself agreeing most closely with bonnie in my overall thoughts about the book. For instance, I agree that this is actually badly billed as a suspense novel, or really as a thriller. I would perhaps argue that it is closer in execution to Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books. There is something we don’t know, and the characters in this book are rooted in truth. Hawley does an admirable job of giving enough backstory and detail on each character that they become individuals in your mind, rather than a stream of names and titles, much the same way he is able to create characters in his television work.
Once we move past the initial telling of the lead up to the crash and Scott and J.J.’s survival, the rest of the novel travels between the past and the present. The questions of who these people truly are, why were they on this plane, and what caused the crash unfold as the survivors and the investigators piece together what happened and how to move forward.
While this novel hit some fantastic strengths (its commentary on toxic masculinity, for example, in a couple of characters which drove me nuts), it also had a lackluster resolution and was probably in deep need of another round of edits focusing on pacing. There are some truly interesting components in this novel, but I’m landing on a 3.5 star rating.