Before that fateful flight Scott Burroughs lived in relative obscurity in Martha's Vineyard. He's a recovering alcoholic and a somewhat successful artist. All he wanted to do that night was get to New York, and meet with gallery representatives about his latest collection of paintings. He never imagined he would be on a private plane with a bunch of rich people. But a last-minute invitation from his new friend Margaret "Maggie" Bateman, and Scott is on the plane. Scott doesn't remember a lot about the crash. Somehow he survives, and so does J.J. Bateman, Maggie's son. With little J.J. on his back, Scott manages to swim to safety. It's a miracle! Or is it?
Scott is a hero to the media, and to J.J.'s family. But Scott doesn't think he's a hero. He doesn't want to play the part of a hero. He doesn't know how to handle the pressure. He's thrust into a role he doesn't want. Scott decides to disappear. He chooses to hide at the home of a very rich woman -- a woman he doesn't really like. But she serves a purposes, to hide him from the media. But J.J. is never far from his mind. This little boy has lost his mother, his sister, Rachel, and his father, David. J.J's aunt Eleanor and her husband, Doug, are thrust into the role of parents. Eleanor embraces her new role as mom. She wants what's best for him. Whereas Doug wants what's best for J.J.'s money. David ran a media network, and his multi-million dollar fortune is now J.J.'s. It's not long before Eleanor is questioning her husband's motives.
While Scott and Eleanor deal with the aftermath, the media continues to spin it's own story. First, Scott is the hero but then things start to turn. Bill Cunningham, a rogue anchor at David's network, turns Scott from a hero into a murderer! In Bill's mind, it's suspicious that a no-name painter made it onto a plane with a bunch of rich people. Bill wants to get the "truth" out to the world. His version of the "truth." Was Scott having an affair with Maggie? Why is Scott now shacking up with a rich woman? Was Scott somehow paid to bring the plane down? Why did Scott survive?
Bill's broadcasts are nothing more than innuendo, sensationalism, and immorality rolled into one. Which is an interesting indictment on today's media culture. I think this book reflects what a lot of people believe about the media. In this book, you have a devastating crash. The focus should be on why that happened and how. But all it takes is one person, and a different narrative takes shape. It doesn't matter if the story is wrong. All that matters is that people watch. I loved this book. Sometimes it's a sad read, but it's also a very compulsive read. As I got closer and closer to the end, I didn't want it to end. People are dead and it's hard to read what happened to them. The book alternates between the present and the past. With each passing chapter, readers learn what led up to the passengers and crew boarding the plane. You learn what these people were like. All of them had some kind of emotional issue weighing on their minds. I read that the movie rights have been sold for this book and that Hawley is writing the screenplay, I sincerely hope Hollywood does this story justice!
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Grand Central Publishing). Before the Fall is one of the summer selections for She Reads.