BEFORE AND AFTER by Rosellen Brown


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 Brown, as she showed in Civil Wars (1985), is particularly drawn to what happens to families when a wheel comes off, when the domestic unit begins to careen and veer and ultimately crash. Here, this is her theme again, and once more she accomplishes its dreadful focus with remarkable emotional nuance and high-quality flexible prose. The Reisers, Ben and Carolyn, have two children, Jacob and Judith. Carolyn is a pediatrician, Ben a sculptor, the kids normal enough for their teen and preteen ages. They are Jews among gentile New Hampshire-ites, but are accepted and like where they live, chose it. And then the son's girlfriend is killed. And it is the son who has killed her, in a rage, then has disappeared. It is as terrible a thing for the parents as actually having Jacob be the one killed. How to know one's kid? Ben's reaction is to hide evidence, then (when Jacob is found) to hide the boy, the truth, anything: he even refuses to testify to the grand jury and eventually goes to jail for it. Carolyn--along with daughter Judith--is ripped open not only by the shame and horror but by the lying; and ultimately she finds herself in a cruel grip of conscience she can't deny--even when it means she must deny her son. The plight here--``the forfeit of ordinary life''--is so raw and impossible to finesse that half the time you're almost wincing with the pain that Brown so delicately and dramatically gives shades to. The book is occasionally boggy, stuck in the starkness of its unadorned architecture, with no way to move ahead, to put its agony to momentary rest. And Ben's and Carolyn's and Judith's eloquence of thought sometimes seems too good to be true. Yet true it ultimately all feels--and this is thanks to the tactile, nervy writing Brown accomplishes throughout. A remarkable, nightmarish, often shattering novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-374-10999-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1992


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