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Before the Fall

Created date

June 9th, 2016
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Do you remember Jack LaLanne and how much of an impact he had on America’s fitness revolution? In Noah Hawley’s novel Before the Fall, memories of Jack LaLanne figure prominently in the mind of the book’s central character, Scott Burroghs.

Burroughs spends considerable time thinking back to his childhood and a family vacation to San Francisco. While sightseeing on the Bay area waterfront, his family notices a commotion in the water a short distance from Alcatraz Island. The former prison had already been turned into a tourist attraction, so it wasn’t an escaped prisoner. 

It was Jack LaLanne, arms bound, with a rope tied around his body, attempting to swim the distance between the island and the mainland. Watching LaLanne swim the frigid, shark-infested water had a profound impact on the young Burroughs. It even inspired him to take up competitive swimming.  

Burroughs is a 50-year-old artist and recovering alcoholic who lives by himself on Martha’s Vineyard. A man adrift, Burroughs has completed a collection of paintings and has decided to brave the waters of the art market. To do that, he must travel to Manhattan. A casual invitation by the wife of a cable television executive gets Burroughs a seat on her family’s private plane to the city. 

The book opens as Burroughs, a three-person flight crew, a bodyguard, and six other passengers board the private jet. Eighteen minutes after taking off, the jet plunges into the ocean. As Burroughs loses consciousness, his mind goes back in time and he dreams of Jack LaLanne’s famous swim. When he awakens, he finds himself in the ocean, surrounded by floating debris and fire. 

The only other survivor is a four-year-old boy. With two lives on the line, Burroughs is forced into action. He must be a hero and do what is seemingly impossible, just as LaLanne had done years ago.  

Life-changing experience?

The first hundred pages of this compelling novel are the best. Being inside Burroughs’ head as he battles huge waves, sharks, and the mental contest to keep himself going despite injury and fatigue makes the novel hard to put down. Burroughs’ character in these beginning passages is strong and determined. He makes decisions and acts on them. Adrift in the ocean he is a formidable opponent to the forces of nature. Back on dry land, however, Burroughs is wishy-washy, floating from place to place without much conviction. 

The second part of the novel is structured more like a who-done-it. Chapters introduce the reader to the other nine passengers aboard the fateful flight as investigators try to determine the cause of the crash. This allows readers to know and understand these ch 

aracters without becoming emotionally attached to them. By the time you meet them, they’re already dead. I’m grateful for this as it would have been gut-wrenching to know them all and then lose them all. 

Before the Fall might not be an ideal book to read aboard an airplane, but if you’re sitting on the beach with your toes in the sand, it’s well worth the time.