What first drew me to Noah Hawley’s current novel was the fact that the first two seasons of FX’s Fargo were some of the tensest, tightest, most strikingly filmed television programmes ever. Hawley is the show runner for the show, he writes a majority of the episodes and directs some of them. To take someone else’s vision and remake it while keeping a sense of the original takes guts and skill.
Before the Fall is all Hawley’s own work. A private plane crashes in the Atlantic on the way from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. On board are David Bateman, the founder and CEO of a Fox News type network, Ben Kipling, a financier–“a blue-eyed shark in a tailored button-down shirt,” and Scott Burroughs, an artist. The wealthy men have wives–Maggie is present in the story, but the Ben’s wife is barely there. Also on the plane are the crew and the Batemans’ children. Only two of the characters survive, but everyone’s story is told. The narrative moves forward with as Hawley looks back at the lives of most of the characters. As the book proceeds, and more of the story happens in the present, the back stories are still there.
While creating a mystery, Hawley manages to develop empathy for the crooked, the troubled and the heroic–not equally but enough to have woven a human tapestry from characters whose connection is the plane crash brought in later are treasury agents investigating financial misdeeds, the National Transport Safety Board the FCC, the FBI. Some of these agents become characters in the story.
Hawley examines how the media respond to the accident that killed on of their own and it becomes clear that the story takes over from the truth. Some of the media are actively working that way, especially Bateman’s leading anchor, Bill Cunningham, others are just following the sensationalist’s lead.
But at the centre of the story are the two survivors and their bond even as the harsh world of finance, tabloid media and excessive world circle around them.