Before, During, After

Knopf. Aug. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780307266262. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351614. F
Natasha Barrett and Father Michael Faulk, an Episcopal priest, had at least one thing in common the evening they met at Mississippi Senator Norland's house: neither wanted to be there. Yet within a few alcohol-fueled months of dating, they chose to ignore their misgivings, 17-year age difference, and dearth of information about each other's pasts and planned a September wedding. As each tied up loose ends, Michael in New York City and Natasha in Jamaica, the unthinkable happened: September 11, 2001, which gave Americans a collective case of post-traumatic stress disorder. For Natasha, stranded in Jamaica and convinced that Michael is dead, an assault of a different nature has a similar effect. When they finally reunite in Memphis, they seem like strangers to each other. Michael's loss of faith in both his vocation and himself coupled with Natasha's inability to trust him with her devastating secret, threaten the relationship. The author deftly illustrates the strain between them through maddeningly tepid, inconsequential conversations that disguise their agonizingly painful and authentic interior monologs.
VERDICT Recipient of the Pen/Malamud Award for his short fiction and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the American Library Association's W.Y. Boyd Prize for Peace, Bausch has created flawed characters searching for the courage to move forward through uncertainty. This dark, emotionally exhausting novel has the feel of a Tennessee Williams play, and though at times Natasha's stubbornness may test the reader's patience, it is a compelling read.
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