Noah Hawley has had a very successful couple of years. His TV series Fargo has been a critical and commercial hit, and his newest novel, Before the Fall, a NY Times Best Seller, is now on many best of the year lists. The book deserves all the praise it has earned but the social and political climate we’re in right now might have something to do with the attention it is getting.
Eighteen minutes after takeoff, a private jet filled with very rich people and their staff, goes down in the Atlantic off the coast of New York. Somehow, a last minute guest on the trip, a failed painter with only $600 in his bank account, manages to survive. Swimming for hours in the middle of the night, he brings along the only other survivor, a four year old boy, now worth millions. We learn about all the flight’s passengers, how they came to be on the flight, and how they earned their wealth. We also see how the media reacts to the disaster through the lens of a 24 hour news personality, famous not for reporting the news, but for speculating about it.
The central mystery of why the plane crashed is told through flashbacks that provide humanizing details about the lives of each of the passengers, but the book has more on its mind than a propulsive plot and compelling characters. Before the Fall also examines issues of income inequality, journalistic ethics, and the power of coincidence to affect our lives.