Richard Bausch’s novella Peace received high praise from discerning critics when it was published here in 2009. They saluted it for the very quality that is notably absent from his latest novel, Before, During, After – an economy of means that works to powerful emotional effect. Almost everything in this book is overdone and overwritten, especially when the two principal characters, Natasha Barrett and Michael Faulk, are either suppressing or letting go of their feelings for each other. Natasha’s parents drowned when she was little and she was subsequently raised by her grandmother Iris in Memphis, where the greater part of the narrative is set. She is working as a congressional aide in Washington when the book opens, on the rebound from an affair with a married photographer. At a fund-raising dinner she is introduced to Faulk, as he is called throughout, who until recently was a minister of the Grace Episcopal Church in, of all places, Memphis. He finds her ‘darkly beautiful’ and she thinks he has an ‘appealing weathered look’. He tells her he will be forty-eight in June and she replies that she will be thirty-two in July. They exchange memories, do some sightseeing in the capital, and by page 33 they are having multi-orgasmic sex.
It is 2001, the year of the attack on the World Trade Center. The romance between the divorced Faulk and the discarded Natasha blossoms during the spring and summer. They decide to marry in October, after she has returned from a long-planned vacation in Jamaica with her blowsy friend Constance