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An Almanac For The 21st Century

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Look! A Book! : Before the Fall

Look! A Book! : Before the Fall

I've previously raved about critically acclaimed TV shows Fargo and Legion, but did you know creative force behind both of these shows, Noah Hawley, is also a novelist? A few months ago I read his most recent novel, Before The Fall, and enjoyed it so much I've recommended it to just about everyone I know, and now that includes you. I'm going to attempt a synopsis but honestly, Janet Maslin's review in The New York Times is pretty perfect and my arthritic fingers are achin', so we'll see how far I get.  If you want a thorough review with, you know, specific deets, then I highly suggest you click that link. Otherwise, some of my very scholarly opinions are below!

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Before The Fall skips between the aftermath of a small private airplane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, and the time leading up to the crash. From the beginning of the book we know exactly who is on the plane, and we know that just 16 minutes after takeoff, only two of them will remain alive. The two survivors are an unknown artist, Scott Burroughs, and the son of the man who chartered he plane, the owner of a Fox News-esque network. Scott was a last minute addition to the party of travelers, which also included the wife and daughter of the newsman, and another tony couple who weekend on the Vineyard. There are also the two pilots and a flight attendant, but Scott is clearly the odd man out. When the plane crashes, Scott, despite having a dislocated shoulder, manages to swim (with the small boy clinging to his neck) the many miles to shore. Of course, he is immediately the subject of intense media attention.

Before the Fall makes it known from the beginning that the core mystery is "why did the plane crash?" but there are so many twists and turns along the way that as a reader you occasionally forget that this is the thesis you were presented with at the very start. As the story unfolds we learn that every (adult) passenger on the plane had a reason to be a target, and untangling those knots becomes a detective story of its own. Scott, being the only adult left alive, is now being hounded by journalists, particularly the star reporter from the Fox News-like station who is basically Bill O'Reilly, and is determined to keep the story of his best friend and employer's death in the news cycle as long as he can. It doesn't help that Scott was working on a series of paintings before the crash depicting disaster scenes, including a plane crash and drowning.

One of my favorite elements in the novel is the way these paintings are described. They read as though you are viewing them in a gallery, and the description follows your eye. It will describe what you see first, then where your eye naturally travels next, on and on until you see the whole piece. Some of the pieces are on multiple canvasses, for example, so you don't know the full image until you take a step back and take in the full view. It made me really want to see this Scott Burroughs show, despite fully knowing Scott Burroughs is a fictional character, as is his art.

I think I read the last third of Before the Fall in one sitting, because every time I reached a spot where I said, "Oooh, time to quit" Hawley would hit me with an intense cliffhanger and I'd have to know what was going to happen next. The whole book is gripping, and I thought the ending was satisfying. I could see where some looking for a whodunit thriller might not feel the same way, but here's my spoiler free warning before you read: It's not that kind of thriller. Sure, you're going to want to know who done and done it, but this is a book that you sit back and let take you on a ride. Don't try to guess what turns are coming up, just sit back and enjoy the expert storytelling. Oh, and also learn exactly what happened on that plane.

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