When reading this book, I could not help but think about torture techniques that use water in drastically different ways. There’s the act of waterboarding, where you place a towel over a person’s face and then pour water on top of them. This mimics the sensation of drowning. Then there’s the Chinese water torture, where someone is strapped to a chair and a solitary drip of water falls upon a person’s forehead taking nearly hours between each drop. The drops become a stab into the victim. Reading this book was anything but tortuous, but the way information was treated in the book felt like these two techniques. Sometimes, the book drowns you in information, forcing you to try to decipher what information is important or not. At the same time, the book withholds its best, seemingly most important information for you until the very end of a chapter, then rudely jumps into a different point in time. You’re always in a state waiting for critical information while simultaneously drowning in the sea of information you get. Thus, finding the needles in an ocean of needles.
The book starts with the titular “fall”, when Scott Boroughs boards a plane that will plummet to its demise a chapter later. On the plane with him is the Bateman family (media mogul David, Scott’s acquaintance Maggie, and their two kids Maggie and JJ), the Kiplings (asset manager Ben and his wife Sarah), the Bateman’s bodyman (Israeli badass Gil), and the flight staff (pilots James Melody, Charlie Birch, and attendant Emma Lightner). The plane crashes, leaving Scott in the middle of the Atlantic along with the other survivor, the 4 year old JJ. Scott miraculously swims to shore, saving both his life and the life of the boy. But the story does not end with man conquering nature. He must contend with an investigation into the crashed plane and a talking head at the late David Bateman’s network that puts Scott in the middle of a controversy or the truth of the investigation based on what you believe.
The book is superbly written. Noah Hawley paints each scene for you vividly, but also at times seems to ask the reader for their opinions on certain matters. He certainly makes it a point to comment on the ludicrousness of the 24 hour news cycle, through the Bateman operated ALC and the Bill O’Reilly stand-in Bill Cunningham. They make it a point to give you the news in a biased way. No one cares about unbiased news; they want to hear someone tell them the unfiltered truth. And throughout the book, as you learn more from the government agents trying to get to the truth, you hear Cunningham’s conspiracies that may be more credible than you realize.
But beyond the social commentary, he keeps the plot moving with intrigue and suspense. As you start to gain your footing, Hawley will throw another piece of information at you. Illegal activity. Struggling marriages. Continued threats. Possible indictments. Each piece of information is granted its due as Hawley will pause the current action to look back before the fall at this new data point that you have received. And as the story unfolds in the present, we can see the mistakes that were made in the past that led to the crash.
This is the best book I’ve read so far. I reached a point at midnight when I had to decide to continue reading or not. Despite knowing the next day I had a 9 am appointment an hour away, I soldiered on because how could I not? Each page gave me an additional piece of the puzzle, and got me closer to the truth. It gave me flawed characters succumbing further to their flaws, where I could relish in their embarrassment. It gave me Scott, an unlikely hero in his own eyes, struggling to find his footing despite having braved the cold Atlantic. And the ending Hawley gave was worth every sleepless minute as we learn the truth.