My workplace has a communal bookshelf where people can bring in their old books in trade for whatever’s on the shelf. I turned in a bunch of books I still had from my college years and Before the Fall was one of the books I got in exchange.
At first, I thought it was the book the movie was made from. But, later I would discover the movie is actually called, Before I Fall, and it has nothing to do with this book. I’ve also never heard of Hawley before, but his blurb mentioned he got his break after meeting Po Bronson and joining the “Writers’ Grotto.” I’ve read Bronson’s book (which I thought was a huge disappointment, too), so I’m not surprised Hawley’s book was similarly disappointing.
But, there was still something about the story that kept me going, despite being halfway bored most of the time.
Let’s talk about what that unexplored spark might have been…
The Plane Crash
The story starts off intriguingly enough. Someone is out in the ocean, paddling for all they can muster, bits and pieces of their memory coming back to them, the shock slowly wearing off as they are pounded by the surf.
The rescue of the young boy. The reader has no idea why they’re there, who either of the people are, but you can feel the enormity of the moment, the desperate dig into the last reserves of strength the man has as he tries to swim.
If it had been me, I would have gone down with the plane. I don’t know if I could have swam that kind of distance, even if my life were at stake. I’m not really a swimmer. I never have been. But, the man here wanted…needed…to get the little boy to safety. He needed to get him to land.
It made for a great start for this book. A story of people, of personalities, of inherent wealth and the fluidity and undercurrent of fame – fame for what it is, for its trivialities.
I think that must have been what kept the pages turning for me. Despite being at Eden, at the time in a tent down on the dock, mid summer. It was warm, the sun slow cooking me under the tarp material and bug screening. Even the near constant wind couldn’t drive me out from the building heat inside.
It was the first fiction book I’ve attempted in several years. It would be the first fiction book I actually finished altogether. I kept the copy there at Eden and read it over the next several weeks, only when at the lake. The book traveled with me a few times into the woods that border my property and the shore. Up on the ridge where I’d hang my hammock and look out of the water, glistening as the sun reflected in tiny shards of prismed light, I often read in spurts – starting and stoping, thinking, reflecting.
But, there was something about that book, about that story, about those characters, that kept me going back, had me returning again and again. It somehow imprinted on me like few books do. I can still smell the sweetness of the air from that summer. The smell of the pages of the book.
Different Lives Collide
Before long, I was wrapped up in Scott’s life. In the lives of David, his wife Maggie, their little boy JJ, the Kinglings’, Emily, the flight attendant.
It makes me wonder what kind of interplay is found in the lives of real people every day. I’ve known daughter’s whose dates ran away with her mother, and brothers who slept with the same lady, and I’ve been propositioned for a threesome (didn’t do it), and married a woman I thought would stick by me through everything, only to discover all she knew how to do well was lie.
It is the same complexity, corruptibility found in Before the Fall, in its characters that I try to portray and reveal in my own characters as they work through a world of my own imagination, that they (like us) have no control over and no say in who they are or what will become of them.
Is that it?
Are we hopelessly and irrevocably doomed to our own fates? Would it have been better, in the end, if Scott had not survived the plane crash in the first place? Should he had instead succumbed like the others?
Their lives were so inexplicably intertwined, though they were so spread out by diversity of class and culture and specialty and yet they all seemed, in one way or another, to carry with them an irrevocable depravity within. It is inescapable, as we each seem to break under the increasing weight of our own failings.
In the end, the story reads true: this is no hope for him. Despite having survived the crash. Regardless of having made it to shore or saving the boy. His cannot turn a life that has always been upside down right side up. No life is normal. No life is real. Yet, there is such a gulf between those who have and those who have nothing. The difference was clear between Scott and David. The media mogul and the out of work, no money to his name painter. They are certainly not the same, yet they hold the same creature within them.
And ill fated luck.
Maybe the Spark was Death Itself
But, I think that is what drew me to the book in the first place, and probably what kept me going back, too.
The sheer proximity to it. The central aspect of the story itself, the basic tenet that informs us all, surrounds us all, suffocates us at night when it is still and the only thoughts are those within us.
They all ended up on that plane. They all had a case made for their wickedness, for their shortcomings, for their evil deeds. They all deserved (like each and every one of us) the final judgment that befalls all who breathe.
Yet, Scott lived. And, so did the boy. Two most undeserving yet more innocent than any other.
That’s Really How it Ends?
Yet, the story leaves us in the end, wanting, desperate for a conclusion that never really seems to come.
I won’t spoil it for you and ruin the book before you ever even begin. But, I have to say, by the time I got to that moment when all the opened loops were closed and I found out why the plane crashed and who was responsible for it, it felt more like it came out of necessity than as a natural unfolding of a real world come to life.
The ending felt faked. As if the plane crash itself had been just a mirage, a trick of light and shadow and dangled out over a ledge just to get us to look for a brief moment.
It seemed almost an excuse to give when someone steals your dinner or the cab you called or when you’re swindled by a conman.
I put the book down and realized it wasn’t a story at all. The end is not a finality. It is no answer. No good one anyway. There’s no authenticity to it. No permanency.
Do I Recommend?
Overall, I would not recommend this book. It was okay, definitely not one of the better books I’ve read over the years. But, there is something still rememberable about it, so maybe I’m hasty in my criticism. Maybe it’s the subject matter that intrigues me. How death might skip over one and have it in for the other. Who of us would not have pity on the child with cancer? What of the young man who loses his life defending a woman’s honor while riding on the subway?
These are sometimes real stories and lives and dreams squelched. They are actual people in actual places and with goals and hopes and drama of their own. It is the unanswerable that keeps me coming back for more.
Will I survive the plane crash in my life? Will good fortune shine on me when I least expect it? Will I, in the end, win? Or will I slip off into perpetual obscurity, never connect with another, never be able to trust another again?
If nothing else, I think this novel is a good example of how random life is. “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45-46).
Until my next review….
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Excerpt from Our Daughter:
“Okay, mom,” Randy said.
“You behave yourself and be nice. You’re lucky to have company while you wait for the doctors.”
The woman turned and started back the way she came.
“The nurse said it would be twenty or thirty more minutes, so we’ll eat quick and be back up here before they take you in, okay?”
“Sorry for him,” the woman said to Katie as she walked by.
As the woman left, Katie noticed the boy moving around again on the bed. Before she realized what was happening, the tiny lump disappeared and she could hear the faint sound of bare hands and feet on the tile floor.
He was low crawling under the beds toward her.
A moment later, Randy popped his head out from under the nearest hospital bed, craning his neck around to look up at her.
“Hello, there,” Katie said.
Randy disappeared back under the bed, the bed sheet draping down almost to the floor. Katie could still see three little fingers pressed to the tile.
“What are you here for?” Katie asked, readjusting her seat in the chair, trying to get the ache in her chest to lessen.
For whatever reason, the wheelchair was really uncomfortable.
“Why are – ”
Randy’s voice trailed off for a moment as he looked around.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m getting my leg fixed,” Katie said. “See?”
Randy poked his head back out from under the bed and looked at the leg she was pointing to.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“The doctor said it’s broken,” Katie said. “Shattered.”
“Can you feel it?” Randy asked, able to stay out from his hiding place.
“I can feel it, but it’s not too bad,” Katie said, then tapped the IV in her arm. “This thing is giving me medicine of some kind for the pain. At least that’s what the nurses said.”
“Why are you – ”
Randy stopped mid-sentence.
He scooted out from under the bed entirely and slowly crept over to her on all fours.
“What are you, some kind of spider?” Katie asked, giggling a little.
“What are you?” Randy echoed.
He was now only about a foot away from her chair and sat there, his legs folded up under him, gawking up at her.
“What are you staring at me for?”
“I’ve never – ”
Randy put out a hesitant hand and ever so gently touched her arm.
“Are you some kind of ghost?”
He looked around again.
“Are you – ”
He leaned in, talking in a whisper.
“Are you dead?”
A nurse came around the corner and stopped abruptly, spotting the empty bed in the far corner where Randy should have been.
“Randy Andrews,” the nurse said, her hands now on her hips. “You get right back into the bed and you stop playing around, please. They are ready for you in surgery.”
Katie watched as Randy scrambled on all fours under the beds and back up onto his, pulling the sheet back over top of himself again.
She started to ask him about his question, but couldn’t get the words out before his parents appeared at the door.
Katie sat there quietly, watching Randy stare back at her from under his sheet. She glanced over at his parents and the nurse, noticed Randy’s dad had no hair on the top of his head.
Are you dead?
What kind of question was that?
The snap of the wheel locks being disengaged on Randy’s hospital bed jarred Katie out of the confusion she was in.
The doctor she’d first seen was now at the door, waiting for Randy.
He was his surgeon.
They wheeled Randy out of the room, his parents following right behind, disappearing to the left, heading for his operating room.
The pre-op room was empty again.
Are you dead?
What kind of crazy question was that?
The nurse came back through the double doors.
“It won’t be long now,” she said.
Katie tried not to think about the dull ache growing just behind her sternum.
The nurse disappeared around the corner as Katie watched the double doors to the operating rooms slowly shut.
Buy my book Our Daughter and begin the adventure of a lifetime, as you uncover the mysteries behind Katie Cadora’s new life after the horrible accident that stole her mother away from her. Will she find sure footing again? Will the pain ever stop? Will she discover the secrets her new foster family are keeping from her? Is the boy’s question right? Is Katie Cadora actually dead?
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But, trust me when I tell you, there are deceivers in our midsts! Get started in this bone chilling suspense novel right away and find out why….sometimes….you’re just better off DEAD!