Tag Archives: noah hawley

BEFORE THE FALL by Noah Hawley

1e3c0cb68882781b9a0f6a7067000e6bBefore The Fall by Noah Hawley was one of the hot books pushed at BEA last spring. (It was even featured on the BEA lanyard strings, which isn’t cheap.) Hawley is best known for creating and writing the FX series Fargo, but I know him from an earlier novel he wrote called The Good Father. I don’t think it got a lot of attention when it came out, but I really liked it and was intrigued when I came across Before The Fall.

Before The Fall is a thriller/mystery. A private plane takes off on a Sunday night from Martha’s Vineyard, headed to New York. The plane was chartered by a very wealthy family, the Batemans, who have two children aged 9 and 4. The Batemans invited another couple to fly back with them – a banker and his wife – and at the last minute an artist shows up for the ride, having been invited earlier that day by Mrs. Bateman. There are also three pilot/crew members and the Batemans’ bodyguard.

Eighteen minutes after the plane takes off, it crashes into the Atlantic. The only two survivors of the crash are the artist and the Bateman’s four year-old boy.

So what happened? Did the plane malfunction? Was it pilot error? Did someone purposely take the plane down? As the story teases out, we learn that both David Bateman and his banker friend had secrets to hide – did their shady business dealings have anything to do with it? And is the artist who he claims to be? What about the crew? Hawley follows each of these threads, flashing back in time to flesh out these characters’ stories, until he finally reveals what caused the fatal crash.

Overall: meh. Before The Fall kept my attention, and for that alone it wasn’t bad. I enjoyed the character development and found the backstories of these doomed passengers pretty interesting. But I had a bunch of problems with the book too. First, the character of the artist bothered me. He did and said things that made no sense and seemed so bizarre to me, yet no one else appeared to notice. Second, this book reads like a screenplay (for which the movie rights have probably already been sold, right?), which I’d forgive Hawley for if I hadn’t read The Good Father, which didn’t at all read like a screenplay. I expected more.

There are also little inconsistencies and impossibilities throughout the book that I found distracting. The plane took off after 10 on a Sunday night, and a Red Sox game was on, which is pretty unlikely unless it was in extra innings (it wasn’t). At one point the artist gave the boy a pen that he had had since he was a little boy, which made no sense because the artist swam to shore after the crash and his bag was not recovered, nor had he returned home since the accident. People talked on landline phones with long stretchy cords (seriously?). Just sloppy.

The ending was underwhelming too. I can think of like 5 other more satisfying explanations for the plane crash.

I’m glad I read Before The Fall because I was curious about it, and it was an engrossing vacation read. But in the end it left me cold. Proceed at your own peril.



THE GOOD FATHER by Noah Hawley

I recently wrote a post about Parent’s Worst Nightmare books, inspired by the book that I was reading last week, The Good Father by Noah Hawley. The Good Father definitely deserves a spot on that list. It’s about Paul Allen, a successful 50ish doctor living in Connecticut with his second wife and their twin sons. His oldest son, Daniel, from his first marriage, is a bit of a drifter – he has recently dropped out of college and hasn’t been in touch for a while. Soon after the book opens, Paul learns that the Democratic presidential frontrunner has been shot and killed at a rally in L.A., and that Daniel has been arrested for the crime.

The rest of the book is about Paul’s attempts to understand what happened, to exonerate his son, and to come to terms with his own guilt about not being there for his son as he was growing up. It’s also an examination of Daniel’s mental state in the months leading up to the shooting, what brought him to L.A., and what might have motivated him to do what he was accused of doing.

I liked this book a lot. It’s a very difficult topic – what role does a parent play in the bad deeds of his children? At what point must a parent let go, and how does he recover from the loss of a child – and control over that child? There are chilling details throughout the book – depictions of mass murderers and their motivations, their last meals, their executions – all research that Paul does meticulously to understand the mind of the killer.

Heavy stuff, indeed. But this is a very well-written book and while difficult, a good read.  I had to put it down at times just because it was such a tough subject atter. Here’s a passage I liked a lot:

America was a country that believed that crime was who a person was, not just what they did. In this light there could be no such thing as rehabilitation, only punishment And part of that punishment was, inevitably, the ostracism and conviction of a convict’s family.

Some of the passages about Daniel’s meandering journey to LA could have used a little tightening, and some of the book felt repetitive at times. But overall this was a really good read. If you can stomach the subject matter, I really recommend it. It comes out next Tuesday, so pre-order it now or go to your bookstore next week!

Thank you to Doubleday for the review copy of The Good Father, which showed up unsolicited and was a very welcome surprise.

Parent’s Worst Nightmare Books

I just started a new book (The Good Father by Noah Hawley), and as I’ve been reading it, I keep thinking, “Wow, this is every parent’s worst nightmare.” This is a common theme among a lot of memorable books I’ve read. Whether it’s kids disappearing, committing violent acts, becoming addicted to drugs, or losing themselves in sex or other destructive behavior, these plots have cropped up again and again in my reading.

Here are the ones that come to mind:

  • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – this is by far the pinnacle of Parent’s Worst Nightmare books, for lots of reasons. I probably think about this book once a day. (difficult son is school shooter)
  • Cost by Roxana Robinson (son addicted to heroin)
  • A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein and Trespass by Valerie Martin (sons get involved with “undesirable” women, often with destructive consequences for parents and their relationship)
  • Breaking Her Fall by Stephen Goodwin (daughter performs sex acts at high school party; father goes ballistic)
  • Goldengrove by Francine Prose (daughter drowns)
  • I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (daughter abducted)
  • Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, The Local News by Miriam Gershow, and The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond (disappearing kids)

These books are so disturbing that sometimes I wonder why I read them. They bring on all kinds of fears and anxiety. But they are also intense and deeply involving reads, which is of course why we read in the first place, right?

What are your Parent’s Worst Nightmare picks?