I love Noah Hawley, the showrunner, who has created two great seasons of Fargo and one decent season; a bizarre but fascinating season of Legion; and an under-appreciated season of The Unusuals. With his television work, however, Hawley has always worked in the confines of another property, whether it’s the framework of Fargo, the characters of Legion, or the constricts of a network police procedural in The Unusuals. I was deeply curious as to who Hawley is in his natural state: What kind of yarn might he spin if left to his own device?
The answer, at least as far as Before the Fall is concerned, is a character journey. Before the Fall is not quite a mystery, and it’s not quite a thriller, but there are shades of both within the story. It’s about a painter named Scott who accepts an invitation to take a short trip on a private plane with a woman he knows from the farmer’s market. That woman is married to a Roger Ailes type — a guy who built a cable news network from scratch with a strong conservative point of view — and they have two kids together, also on the plane. Also on the private plane is a man in trouble with FBI for money laundering and his wife; the two pilots; and a stewardess.
In the opening chapters, the plane goes down, and the only person to survive it is the painter Scott and the son of the Roger Ailes type, who Scott rescues by swimming 10 miles to shore. It should be a simple story of a heroic man who saves a four year old boy, but the Bill O’Reilly type guy at the cable news network starts spinning conspiracies, and what looks like an unfortunate tragedy is transformed into something else entirely through the sheer power of cable news.
It’s a fascinating, gripping story. Hawley fleshes out the backstories of everyone on the flight until we finally learn the root cause of the tragedy, but it’s as much about how the media distorts facts as it is about the plane crash itself. It’s a great novel, and I fully expect I’ll be checking out Hawley’s back catalogue of novels in the near future.