As I was reading the June-released Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (yes, the one you’ve seen in the book store) I was trying to remember where I’d read something like it: the give and take narrative, everything explained in backstory. The myriad of characters. The slow unspooling of storytelling.
I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel this past winter and was immediately entranced by the no-rush-here writing. You’re dealing with a post-apocalyptic world, but just as important is theater, and art, and what makes us human.
Before the Fall is not post-apocalyptic in the usual sense: unlike Station Eleven, there is no mass outbreak of disease that kills 99% of the population. And yet the books have a similar feel, perhaps, because the tragedy of a plane crash separates like into “before” and “after,” in the same way a apocalypse must have a similar line of demarcation.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Hell is the absence of the people you long for
Station Eleven takes its name from a comic book one of the main characters is writing and illustrating, the story of people who left a ruined earth on a starship that is slightly broken, so they live in a world of perpetual twilight (pictured above.) But that’s not what the book is about: it’s about a theater troupe, traveling between towns in a post-biological disaster North America.
But that’s not really what it’s about either, since half the book takes place before the disaster ever happened. So Station Eleven is really about what it means to be an actor, or the wife of an actor.
It’s also about how different people react to tragedy, and power. It’s about finding yourself adrift in a new life and making yourself anew.
One of the best things about this novel is that it’s about a whole lot of things. It’s a new take on dystopia. Rather than focus on the President of the United States, or the Person Who Discovered The Imminent Tragedy, this is not a book about people trying to prevent an apocalypse from happening. This is about Joe Schmoes (and very rich Joe Schmoes) who have to deal with life before and after the world ends.
And it switches focus a lot (though, if I remember correctly, it always stays in omniscient?) Every chapter you’re with someone new, and it may be before or after the world has ended. So this is not in chronological order, but maybe it’s in emotional order? Operating on train of thought, rather than the rigidity of calendar dates.
Life is a series of decisions and reactions. It is the things you do and the things that are done to you. And then it’s over.
And then there’s Before the Fall, which focuses on a plane crash, and about how one man
who shouldn’t have been on the plane swims to shore with a little boy on his back, and what happens afterwards. It’s about tragedy porn. And the twenty-four-hour news cycle. And about human beings having lives that happen to mesh on one airplane, or around one airplane, or because of one airplane.
Like Station Eleven, it’s about a lot of things. This one does involve the FBI, the people in charge. The billionaires. But it’s also about art, and the meaning of art and the meaning of being an artist, and what it takes to be a hero.
This one definitely is omniscient–you can bounce from the point of view of the artist who swam to shore with the little boy, to the FBI agent in charge of finding the plane, to a jealous ex-husband, to a television star, all in one chapter. You bounce between the investigation to one of the characters, twenty years before. Again, this is in emotional, not chronological, order.
There’s more of a conclusion to Before the Fall than in Station Eleven. After reading, you can pretty much predict what’s going to happen after the book closes. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, but after Station Eleven I felt like I needed another book to explain the ending. One leaves you wondering, the other leaves you guessing.