‘Before, During, After’: 9/11 darkens two lovers’ future
Richard Bausch’s new novel, “Before, During, After,” is the story of two lovers whose optimism for their future is darkened by the events of 9/11. Bausch reads Tuesday, Aug. 19, at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of “Before, During, After” will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or thirdplacebooks.com).
Love triangles always spice up a novel, but Richard Bausch puts a twist on the theme in his latest, “Before, During, After” (Knopf, 345 pp., $26.95). What comes between Michael Faulk, a 48-year-old Episcopal priest who has lost the taste for his calling, and Natasha Barrett, a 32-year-old recovering from an ill-starred affair, is not another person, but an event: 9/11, a trauma so great that it becomes the interloper threatening to destroy their happiness.
This terrific novel opens in April 2001 (“Before”), when Faulk, as Bausch calls him, meets Natasha at a posh party hosted by her boss, a U.S. senator. Mutual attraction occurs, overwhelming their age difference. The two become nearly inseparable, and an October wedding date is set.
First, however, Faulk must attend another wedding in New York City, while Natasha takes a trip to Jamaica with a friend. And so the couple are separated by 1,500 miles and clogged phone lines after the Towers are hit. Receiving the news, Natasha fears Faulk is among the dead. She and her friend, along with others now marooned in paradise, anesthetize themselves with alcohol while waiting to get off the island.
It is at this point (“During”) that a disoriented Natasha gets into very deep water, both literally and figuratively. Even after Faulk and Natasha are reunited, everything that happens between them (“After”) becomes shaded with what did or didn’t happen. Meanwhile, 9/11 and “the awful majesty of the terrible” exert their venomous force on the couple and those around them: Anthrax scares, the president’s promise of vengeance and the anxiety of the unknown feed the worries of two fragile people who thought — “Before,” anyway — that their relationship could save them.
Faulk, a product of divorce, “always had the feeling that something was brooding under the surface kindness and the usual staid rituals of family life.” Natasha, raised by her grandmother after both parents died in a plane crash, grew up with talk that was “quite pleasant and affectionate, but it seldom became personal.” Each can wear the mask of normality, at least for a while.
Natasha: “She kept trying to wipe the shadows from her heart, drinking more of the wine and staying close to him.”
Faulk: “It occurred to him that they probably looked like newlyweds in the first flow of life. He thought his heart would give out.” The now former cleric composes a document modeled after Thomas Aquinas, trying to understand what has changed.
Faulk is no wimp, but a sensitive man who can’t ignore the truth, even if it’s intangible. He’s the humane and believable creation of a master storyteller who appreciates subtleties most of us can’t see, much less write.
It’s a stretch to say that the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, can serve as a metaphor for anything. But if it could, Bausch has found a way to connect the optimism that died that day with the hopes and dreams that we take into our intimate relationships. They can collapse, too. And often we don’t even see it coming.
Ellen Emry Heltzel is a Portland writer and critic.