He realizes that everyone else on that plane except he and the boy exist now only in the past tense.
David Bateman is a media mogul whose news channel is doing exceptionally well, thanks to a programme hosted by Bill Cunningham, a man who believes that news has to be created rather than simply told. The day the novel begins, David is returning to his home in NY from Martha’s Vineyard along with his wife, Maggie and kids, Rachel and JJ. Also accompanying them is their body guard, Gil Baruch, an Israeli six-footer who is there since Rachel was kidnapped when she was a mere toddler. Also David receives death threats on almost a daily basis. They are to fly to NY in a charter plane, captained by James Melody with Charlie Busch as co-pilot and flight-attendant, Emma Lightner. Maggie has also invited a couple- financier Bill Kipling and his wife Susan to accompany them. As he is about to board the plane, Bill comes to know that the moment he lands in New York, he would be indicted for money laundering (something illegal but beyond my understanding). David also comes to know of this. The other person whom Maggie has invited is painter, Scott Burroughs who paints disaster-paintings, is in talk with a few gallery owners in NY and feels that his luck would turn now. The plane takes off smoothly.
And as they rise up through the foggy white, talking and laughing, serenaded by the songs of 1950s crooners and the white noise of the long at bat, none of them has any idea that sixteen minutes from now their plane will crash into the sea.
Scott, who in his childhood had seen fitness-guru Jack LaLanne accomplish an incredible feat in water and had become his chela, swims all the way to Long Island along with JJ. He is hailed as a hero before Bill Cunningham – who is on a sticky wicket due to his tapping of phones of competitors – decides to salvage his career by pointing fingers at Scott and creating conspiracy theories. Agencies like FBI, National Transportation Safety Board, OFAC etc too question Scott. The FBI agent is especially belligerent (though it turns out he is absolutely right regarding what is relevant to the investigation). Scott however can help them but little, things having occurred so fast. The author than goes into the thoughts of all those who were on the plane that day to solve the mystery of the crash.
Images flash through his mind, an astronaut’s vertigo, a blare of sounds. Metal shrieking. The disorienting whirl. Like a movie negative that has been cut and reassembled at random. It is the job of the human brain to assemble all the input of our world—sights, sounds, smells—into a coherent narrative. This is what memory is, a carefully calibrated story that we make up about our past. But what happens when those details crumble? Hailstones on a tin roof. Fireflies firing at random. What happens when your life can’t be translated into a linear narrative?
Scott is a likeable hero and the book begins extremely well and raises some pertinent questions regarding our consumerist culture, the need for sensationalism, the changed ethos of news and newsreaders. However, it loses its focus as it goes on- unnecessary characters are introduced, a chapter is devoted to Jack LaLahne which adds nothing to the story, and there are editing problems: Gil’s date of death is different from the others making the readers feel it is of significance only to realise in the end that it is an editing howler; a pen that should be lost in the sea makes an important point later; Scott gives an interview three weeks after the incident but the novel mentions: “Two weeks from now, in a New York magazine interview, Scott Burroughs….” The ending too is a major let-down.
And I am not enamoured of parents who make a two-year old sleep in a different room where they cannot even keep an eye on the child!
Have you read the book? Did you too feel that it lost its focus somewhere in-between?
First Line: A private plane sits on a runway in Martha’s Vineyard, forward stairs deployed.
First Published: 2016