BEFORE by Irini Spanidou


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Set in the 1970s, Spanidou's third novel (Fear, 1999, etc.) covers three months in the life of New York resident Beatrice, a woman at war with her own beauty and compelling sexuality, who is in the process of watching her marriage self-destruct.

Beatrice works in publishing and spends her days finding nice things to say about terrible manuscripts, while neglecting her own writing. Her husband, Ned, an artist whose brother, Cyril, served in Vietnam, seethes with unresolved hatred for his alluring wife. Beatrice finds herself alone and abandoned by Ned, but cannot seem to realize the closeness she seeks with any of the odd assortment of people whose paths she crosses. Her lifelong acquaintance, Faye, an actress with whom Beatrice shares an uneasy friendship, craves sexual intimacy with Beatrice, but Faye remains in her life as a relic from Beatrice's unhappy childhood rather than as a true friend. The others—from a beautiful young teenager living a precarious life on the streets, to a mysterious neighbor recently released from prison—move in and out of Beatrice's world with barely a ripple. In the meantime, Beatrice fills empty days and nights with alcohol and unremarkable conversations. A child of wealth and privilege, Beatrice inspires lust in almost all she meets—everyone wants her, yet she doesn't seem to know what she wants. Readers will take little away from the author’s invocation of the era other than the obvious Vietnam references and a few songs that were popular at the time. The book itself embraces a group of strangely uninteresting people who both hate and desire Beatrice for reasons none of them seem to understand.

The story meanders, and the heroine is difficult to care about.

Pub Date: July 17th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-375-41381-0
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2007