Scott Burroughs is a little known painter living on Martha's Vineyard. He befriends Maggie Bateman at a local farmers' market. She is the retiring wife of fabulously wealthy media mogul David Bateman. David Bateman has made his fortune and living putting forth a conservative agenda, à la Fox News. Of course, he owns his own plane, and this provides the nexus for Hawley's story.
Although Scott is about forty, artistic success has eluded him, but now he has a chance to move forward and ignite his ambitions. He must fly to New York to see about presenting his work in a gallery. Maggie and her family, including two young children, are flying back to New York, so she offers Scott a seat on their private jet. David in the meantime has offered seats to shady investor Ben Kipling and his wife Sarah. Rounding out the gang are a pilot, copilot, flight attendant, and Gil Baruch, the Batemans' bodyguard, a necessity for the Batemans ever since daughter Rachel was kidnapped when she was two. Sixteen minutes after takeoff, the plane crashes.
Scott awakens in a cold, blazing sea. Disoriented but not panicked, he has only a vague idea of what has happened, because he was knocked unconscious during the first few minutes of the disaster. He hears a sound, and it turns out to be the cries of the Batemans' four-year-old son, JJ. Despite a dislocated shoulder, Scott manages to swim to shore with JJ on his back.
This is the bare bones outline of the first few pages of the book. The history that brought Scott, David, Maggie, Rachel (the Batemans' daughter), JJ, Ben, Sarah, Gil, the pilot, copilot, and attendant to their fateful flight is detailed movingly and unexpectedly by Hawley, who proves to be a master storyteller.
Hawley also created the character of Bill Cunningham, a controversial, pot-stirring show host on David Bateman's network, who becomes Scott's nemesis. Used to finding conspiracy and controversy wherever he looks, he works to make Scott not the hero but the villain of the piece.
What Hawley shows us is that crafting a good book is not just about the techniques of plotting or the technical details to show authenticity, it's mostly definitely about character and morality.
Here's an MBTB star for an outstanding novel!