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  • Written by Richard Bausch
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On Sale: August 12, 2014
Pages: 352 | ISBN: 978-0-385-35161-4
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Synopsis

From the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award, the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Rea Award for the Short Story: a gorgeously rendered, passionate account of a relationship threatened by secrets, set against the backdrop of national tragedy.

When Natasha, a talented young artist working as a congressional aide, meets Michael Faulk, an Episcopalian priest struggling with his faith, the stars seem to align. Although he is nearly two decades older, they discover in each other the happy yearning and exhilaration of lovers, and within months they are engaged. Shortly before their wedding, while Natasha is vacationing in Jamaica and Faulk is in New York attending the wedding of a family friend, the terrorist attacks of September 11 shatter the tranquillity of the nation’s summer. Alone in a state of abject terror, cut off from America and convinced that Faulk is dead, Natasha makes an error in judgment that leads to a private trauma of her own on the Caribbean shore. A few days later, she and Faulk are reunited, but the horror of that day and Natasha’s inability to speak of it inexorably divide their relationship into “before” and “after.” They move to Memphis and begin their new life together, but their marriage quickly descends into repression, anxiety, and suspicion.

In prose that is direct, exact, and lyrical, Richard Bausch plumbs the complexities of public and personal trauma, and the courage with which we learn to face them. Above all, Before, During, After is a love story, offering a penetrating and exquisite portrait of intimacy, of spiritual and physical longing, and of the secrets we convince ourselves to keep even as they threaten to destroy us. An unforgettable tour de force from one of America’s most distinguished storytellers. 

Excerpt

Ms. Barrett and Father Faulk

1

Not to be lonely, not to look back with regret, not to miss anything, always to be awake and aware. And to paint. Beautifully.

Natasha Barrett had written this in her journal when she was seventeen.

Favorite watercolorists: Sargent and Gramatky. Favorite sculptors: Bernini, Donatello. Favorite book: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Favorite music: rock, particularly Men at Work, the Police, Dylan; and also for music: jazz, especially Chet Baker and Billie Holiday. Biggest fear: rejection. Biggest ambition: to travel and to know the world by heart.

Seventeen. And she had come upon it this past winter, years away. You could be a little proud, looking back. You could even find some comfort in the recollection.

In early April of the year she was to turn ­thirty-­two, what she thought of as the chastened later version of that young woman attended a ­fund-­raising dinner hosted by her employer, Senator Tom Norland of Mississippi, at his mansion in Arlington. The mansion was on a high bluff overlooking the Potomac River, and from the road it was just visible at its roofline after you crossed into ­Virginia—­an immense redbrick Colonial. She had visited several times before, and there was always something warm and welcoming about it in spite of its imposing size. Behind the house was a flagstone patio, and walking paths wound through the tall oaks that stood at the edge of the bluff above the river. Along the paths, iron benches were placed decorously amid flower beds and statuary. People would gather in this wide shady space when the senator was entertaining guests.

This evening she arrived late and was greeted by Norland’s tall pretty wife, Greta. “Come right in, darling.” Greta smiled her white smile and then frowned. “Are you all right? You look a bit downhearted.”

“Oh, no, I’m fine,” Natasha said. “Just tired.”

“Well, good to see you, honey. Go right through.”

The younger woman reflected that there were people for whom cheerfulness was a trait, something they were blessed with like good bone structure and silky blond hair. She went along the polished hardwood floor of the hall and stepped out onto the patio. Cocktails and wine were being served to the left of the entrance, a young dark man standing behind a table there. Natasha asked for red wine, and his gaze went over her. She could have imagined this.

Moving away from the crowd and out onto the lawn, she walked among the ­statues—­small, ­delicate-­looking angelic figures in supplicating poses. Please, they all seemed to be saying.

The winter had been long, colored by the aftermath of the end of an affair. She was in no mood for a party and had wanted very badly to find an excuse not to come. But it was Friday, still part of the workweek, and her presence was required: the gathering was for the benefit of the Human Relations Conference, one of the senator’s pet projects. She was his chief organizer.

Wandering back to the patio, she stood sipping her glass of wine, surrounded by people whose evident curiosity about the senator’s ­“assistant”—­two people actually referred to her that ­way—­made her irritable and cross. She ­wasn’t there five minutes before she found herself desiring with adolescent fervor to disappear into the rooms of the house. She kept forcing a smile, listening politely to what was said to her. The guests, many of them local celebrities, were talking about the upcoming conference and about ­politics—­the new president’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. It was a signal, someone said, about where things were headed with the Republicans back in power. Others speculated about all that. Someone else remarked on the perfect weather, trying to change the subject. To Natasha it all began to seem depressingly automatic, like the chatter of birds on a shoreline. Species noise.

The weather was indeed fine: clear and cool, breezes stirring like whispered secrets in the leaves of the oaks bordering the property, the new leaves ­gold daubed with sun, nearly translucent. The gravel and flagstone walks skirting the edge of the bluff afforded a lovely view of the dark green river far below, with its ranks of sculling boats from Georgetown. The air was ­flower scented.

Norland approached through the confusion of others, grasping the upper arm of a man who seemed reluctant to be handled in that way. She saw that the man wore a clerical collar. “Natasha,” Norland said. “You grew up in Memphis.”

The senator had a gift for tautology.

She nodded and smiled at him.

“I’d like you to meet Father Michael Faulk, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tennessee.”

Father Faulk was tall, ­solid looking, bulky through the shoulders. She saw his dark brown eyes and, when they shook hands, felt the roughness of his palm.

“Actually, I grew up in Collierville,” she said to him.

“Collierville. I don’t get out that way much.”

“In Memphis people decide not to go somewhere if it’s more than five minutes away. I had Memphis friends who would talk about Collierville as if it was Knoxville, four hundred miles down the road instead of fifteen.”

“You say you had Memphis friends.” His black hair was receding. He looked to be in his late forties or early fifties.

She said, “Former friends, yes.”

“I won’t ask.”

“They all moved to other cities?” she said in the tone of someone speculating.

“I’m still not asking.”

They talked a little about Graceland and other attractions. It was the usual informal kindness of social occasions. She did not feel up to it.

“I’ve never ­really thought about the distance to Collierville,” he went on. “Is it fifteen miles?”

“Fifteen miles from Beale Street to where I lived growing up.” She turned to acknowledge the greeting of a ­coworker, Janice Layne, who was the senator’s press secretary. Father Faulk moved off, having been pulled in another direction by one of the donors to the ­event—­and perhaps having sensed her reluctance to chat. Janice frowned slightly. “Mmm. Who’s the one in the pretty collar?” That was Janice, ­boy crazy by her own account, and probably, secretly, nothing of the kind. Natasha had an indulgent sense of knowing affection for her.

“I’ve just been introduced. You don’t know him?”

“He does look a little familiar. And he’s hot. And Episcopal. I already got that much. And so if he’s single, he’s fair game. I’ll find out for us.”

“Go, girl,” Natasha said automatically. She was already beginning to forget him.

But they got seated next to each other at the dinner, and he turned a charmingly sidelong smile her way, talking about how he could never get used to the grandeur of places such as ­this—­with its atrium and its wide entrances and the original Rembrandt on the wall in the next room. He had been raised in Biloxi, in a decidedly ­middle-­class environment, though his mother, just after he turned seventeen, was the recipient of a large inheritance from a ­great-­uncle who had made a lot of money building houses. “Most of my boyhood,” he said, “was spent so far from this. Anyway, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.”

The humor in his face and the rich timbre of his voice brought her out of herself. He asked, through the smile, if she liked Washington. “I do,” she told him. “Mostly.”

“Exactly how I feel about Memphis.”

“How long have you been there?”

“A long time, now. I went north out of high school. College in ­Boston—­not Harvard.” The smile widened. “Went to seminary in Saint Louis, and then down to Memphis.”

“Your family still in Biloxi?”

“My mother died three years ago,” he said. “My father lives in Little Rock. I have an aunt here in Washington.”

She leaned ­toward him and murmured, “The, um, senator’s press secretary wants to know if you’re married.”

He looked down the table ­toward Senator Norland and Janice Layne. “You mean Ms. Layne.”

“The very lady.”

He grinned. “Divorced.”

“I’m sorry. But she’ll be glad to hear it.”

“Not interested.”

This occasioned a pause, and they watched the others talking and sipping their wine. She thought she might have stepped over some line. He was gazing at the room, evidently far away now, hands folded at his chin.

She said, “Did you like Biloxi?”

And he seemed to come to himself. “I did. Very much. Yes.”

Another pause.

“How about you?” he asked. “Does the senator’s press secretary want to know if you’re married?”

“Janice was just curious,” Natasha told him.

“I was joking.”

“She was, ­too—­a little.”

He grinned. “Actually, my former wife is getting ­remarried. It’s happening in the next couple of days.”

“How’s that make you feel?”

“It’s—­as we ­say—­in everyone’s best interest.”

Natasha nodded, unexpectedly on edge now. She thought of excusing herself. But there ­wasn’t anywhere to go in this place without being seen leaving. She watched the senator talking to a big florid man about Virginia horse country and drank down her wine. It left an ­almost-­syrupy aftertaste.

“I never feel comfortable at this kind of gathering.” Father Faulk spoke softly, only to her.

“I can’t help seeing it all as a series of gestures,” she said. “Makes me feel judgmental.”

“Not us. We’re too cool.”

It was pleasurable to be included in that way, even jokingly.

“Want to talk about Collierville?” he asked.

“Sure.”

He waited.

“Do you like bluegrass?”

“Don’t know much about it, but I like it.”

She described summer evenings when people would gather in the charming old town center to play music.

“I have seen that,” he said. “Wonderful. I like the antiques shops, too, and the old train station museum. I should go out there more often.”

“I guess it’s different if a person lives there.”

“You ­couldn’t wait to get away.”

“No,” she said. “Not ­really. It was ­just—­you ­know—­it was home.”

He had a pleasing weathered look. Realizing her own growing interest in him, she experienced a surprising stir of anticipation. It had been months since she had felt much of anything but weariness. She sipped the ice water before her, and her hand shook a little when she set the glass down. She wanted more wine. He was talking across the table about the Rembrandt to a ­narrow-­faced ­middle-­aged woman who had spectacles hanging from a little chain around her neck and deep lines on either side of her mouth. “I joked about all the little ­age cracks in the original painting,” he told her, “you know, going on about them to this fellow ­who—­­doesn’t seem to be here now. Hope I ­didn’t frighten him away. I told him that I have one just like it that has no cracks at all in it and that I bought it at Walgreens for less than five dollars. He was not amused. I’m pretty sure he thought I was serious.”

The woman across the table was not amused, either.

“Forgive me,” Natasha said to her. “I ­didn’t get your name.”

“I’m Mrs. Grozier. My husband is on the board.”

“Oh, yes, Mrs. Grozier. I’ve worked with your husband.”

Mrs. Grozier nodded civilly and then turned her attention to the other end of the table.

Father Faulk turned to Natasha and said, low, “I keep thinking it was funny about the Rembrandt.”

She smiled. It was as though the two of them were in cahoots, looking at all the others. She felt herself calming down. She saw warmth in his eyes, a sort of reassurance radiating from them.

“What about you,” he said. “You still have family in Memphis?”

“My grandmother. She’s responsible for my having this job. She worked in the mayor’s office in Memphis for years, and she knew a lady who came here to work for the senator.”

“Is the lady still working for him?”

“Retired a couple of years ago and moved to California. Somewhere near L.A. I ­didn’t know her very well.”

“And your grandmother? Do you still go to Collierville to visit her?”

“We moved into the city the year before I left home. A little house in the High Point district. I visit her there, of course.”

“I know a woman in High Point who used to work in the mayor’s office. Iris Mara.”

This gave her a pleasurable little jolt. “That’s my grandmother.”

“I worked with her on a project to make books available to schoolkids in some of the poorer neighborhoods. Iris Mara from the mayor’s office. Retired. Right?”

“Yes. All ­that—­but she never mentioned a project.”

“She comes to my church now,” the priest said.

“Church?” Natasha said. “Iris?”

Grinning, he said, “Hmm.” Then: “Yes. The very lady.”

“We talked on the phone two days ago. We talk a couple of times a week. She’s never said anything about going to church.”

He was silent.

“Well. I’ve been away so much since I left for college.”

At the head of the table, the senator stood and clinked the end of a fork against his wineglass until the room grew silent. He thanked everyone for attending and introduced some of the principal organizers of the event. He congratulated Natasha for her work on the project. Then he sat down, acknowledging the polite round of applause.

Faulk turned to her and said, “I ­didn’t know you were so important.”

“Hmm,” she said. “Sarcasm in a priest.”

His face betrayed no sign of amusement. “I ­wasn’t being sarcastic. Honestly.”

After a pause, he said, “So Iris ­didn’t mention going to church.” And they both laughed. There was something so incongruously familiar about the remark. His soft baritone voice when he laughed rose wonderfully to another register.

He held up his water glass and offered it, as for a toast. She lifted hers, and they touched them and drank.

“I’m probably slandering her by my reaction,” Natasha said. “But she’s always been so secular.”

“She’s been coming for several months now.”

“You notice when someone starts coming to your church?”

He gave forth another little laugh. “In her case, yes. She came to see me first.”

“It’s so ­strange—­Iris going to church. She never went to any church. We never went to any church. As far as I know, my parents never did either.”

“You say as far as you know.”

“They died when I was three. I never knew them.”

“Oh, ­Lord—­forgive me,” he said. “Of course. I should’ve ­remembered—­I knew that Iris lost her daughter and ­son-­in-­law.”

“And Iris just goes on through the days being Iris.”

“She’s a brave lady.”

“I can’t wait to talk to her about you,” Natasha said. “And church. I’ll spring it on her. Be fun to hear her reaction.”

“Please don’t tell her I’m as stupid as I must have seemed just now.”
Richard Bausch|Author Q&A

About Richard Bausch

Richard Bausch - Before, During, After

Photo © Jebb Harris/The Orange County

Richard Bausch is the author of twelve novels and eight volumes of short stories. He is a recipient of many awards, including the PEN/Malamud Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and, in 2012, the Rea Award for the Short Story. He is currently professor of English at Chapman University in Orange, California. 

Author Q&A

Q: The title of the book—BEFORE, DURING, AFTER—refers to the stages of a love affair that unfolds in the months leading up to September 11, 2001, and is rocked as the nation is rocked by tragedy. Why did you choose to set the personal, intimate story of romance—with ups and downs, surprises both good and bad—against a national tragedy?
 
A: I have always said that in most of the world's good fiction the history is backdrop. The Napoleonic war for Tolstoy, for instance, with War And Peace; and, say, World War One for Hemingway, with A Farewell To Arms. Both of those books can be called romances. But this story occurred to me first from the personal history of a neighbor I knew thirty-four years ago in Virginia, whose marriage did not survive a trauma very much like that of Natasha in my book. I wanted to write about that catastrophe, and ended up wanting to make a successful love story, even with the troubles that arise; a portrait of a passionate love threatened by internal failings stemming from the larger circumstances. But that is what all fiction is ultimately doing. I thought about each generation's catastrophic event, where everyone remembers where they were at the moment it happenedRoosevelt's death and Pearl Harbor for my parents; Kennedy's and King's deaths for me; The Challenger for so many, and now 9-11. But of course beyond the shared catastrophic event, each of us has anyway, our own personal catastrophes to live with or make some kind of truce with, and that is the province of fiction. In some ways, it's fiction's main purposeto make personal what we tend to see as abstract. But beyond all this, and more important than any of it, is that I wanted to tell a good story.
 
Q: How do your stories come to you? Do you develop characters first, or do you begin with the plot?
 
A: The two are too closely allied to distinguish between them, really. Sometimes it's a line, sometimes it's a speculation, a what if, and sometimes it's a combination of both. Sometimes it starts with a character, but the character is always dealing with some kind of trouble, which of course is plot.
 
Q: September 11 not only changed our nation, but in the aftermath we've seen an outpouring of literature around that moment. What has your book has added to the conversation in literature about that day? (Or—is there something you hope readers will be compelled to discuss about that day and it's long-lasting effects after reading your book?)
 
A: I wouldn't presume to guess at that. I believe there was a certain nihilism that accompanied the outpouring of extreme religion that followed upon it. We all have our ways of dealing with these irremediable things; we all serve some idea of hope, and redemption, but it seemed to me that everything was darker for a time, though people went on as themselves.
 
Q: At the center of this novel is a secret—it is so pervasive that it almost becomes a character itself. What drew you to tell a story that is moved forward, in many ways, by the unspoken, by silence?
 
A: The long ago instance did not involve secrets, so I can't really say why it becomes so important in this novel, except to say that by the time I had been working on it for a couple of years, the psychology of what Natasha has been though, and my inhabiting of her as a character, dictated the rest of it. And we know that in most instances, people who suffer her trauma never report it.
 
Q: You're a celebrated short story writer as well as a beloved novelist. How is the process different with crafting short stories, as opposed to novels? Do you prefer one to the other, or do they ebb and flow as your work creatively in the different forms? Do your short stories ever spiral into novels?
 
A: It is all expression to me, long or short. Several of my novels began as what I thought would be short stories; once I had a short story, "All The Way In Flagstaff, Arizona," that started as a novel. I thank God every day that that has only happened to me once, and it was very early in my writing life, so I think I can chalk it up to inexperience. There are always five or ten unfinished projects lying around, and some of them have been for years. Eventually, I'd like to write all of them. I hope I'll get to them, and there are always new ones coming up.
 
Q: The story is initially set in the political arena of Washington, DC, then moves to a calmer environment in Memphis, TN—with moments in NYC and Jamaica as the tragedy of September 11 unfolds. Do you have connections to these places?
 
A: I lived in Memphis for seven years. NYC is my favorite city in all the world. Never been to Jamaica, but would like to visit. I just needed them to be far apart and out of reach when it all came down, as of course many people were.
 
Q: This is your 20th book, and we hope there's no stopping now! What are you working on next?
 
A: I'm almost finished with a new book of stories called Living in the Weather of The World. I'm aiming to have it ready, with pages of a new novel I'm not talking about, by mid-August.

Praise

Praise

“Elegantly constructed . . . One of Richard Bausch’s many talents is the forthright ease with which he delivers his characters—and readers—to the gravest questions of love, faith, and ultimately God, even as he nimbly hides the answers in plain sight.”
            —The New York Times Book Review
 
“Scrupulous observation and straightforward storytelling . . . As he empathetically investigates his characters, Bausch uncovers thoughts and feelings as tangled and troubled as the world around them . . . Back stories are traced with Bausch’s customary deftness and delicacy, his protagonists placed within a carefully drawn web of relationships that further illuminate their personalities . . . Bausch has always professed a Chekhovian credo that quiet attention to the details is more truthful and revealing than grand gestures. The moving but tentative final scene keeps faith with that.”
            —Boston Globe
 
“Intimate. Just as Sue Miller did in her 9/11 novel, The Lake Shore Limited, Bausch explores the way private tragedy is distorted and subsumed by national disaster. And as Roxane Gay did in her recent novel, An Untamed State, he juxtaposes an individual act of sexual violence against the broader violence of countries . . . The story effectively recreates the frustration of dealing with a victim in deep denial—and it’s a harrowing reminder of how the reverberations of those explosions traveled through the American psyche. For all the novel’s lovely description of romance ‘before,’ Bausch is even more insightful when he follows the corrosive effects of anxiety ‘after.’”
            —The Washington Post

“Riveting . . . Thoughtfully crafted . . . Bausch portrays Faulk and Natasha with as much toughness as tenderness, a toughness which lends the intimate story an emotional weight that can bear the load of these larger historical events . . . Bausch has found a way to write about love and tragedy that is both particular and resonant, not lost in the sweep of history but enlarged by it.”
            —Chapter 16

“Terrific . . . Humane and believable . . . [Bausch is] a master storyteller who appreciates subtleties most of us can’t see, much less write . . . 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.”
            —The Seattle Times
 
“Elegant prose . . . Keen insights . . . Bausch explores the intersections of private and public history, including the unexpected and often tragic ways that each can influence the other.”
            —Chicago Tribune 

“Bausch earns his subject matter, and proves he’s up to the challenge . . . by displaying the utmost care for his characters, employing the highest form of authorial omnipotence to show how external horrors reverberate in internal spaces . . . transcribing the instant of a pang of feeling in his character’s heart, in other words doing the work of literature . . . Masterful prose, in the service of a masterfully told story.”
            —The Daily Beast

“Bausch makes it look easy . . . His people and situations feel real. They reflect our hopes and dreams and fears. He holds up a mirror with his portrayal of characters who resonate because they spark an old memory, conjure up the face of a forgotten friend, or otherwise ignite something in our consciousness.”
            —Washington Independent Review of Books
 
“Skillfully crafted . . . Taut and restrained . . . Courageously tackles a difficult conundrum in fiction: how to fictionalize—that is, how to make art—out of unspeakable evil taken from life . . . Bausch is a powerful evocator.”
            —New York Journal of Books 

“Sublimely probing what it means to lose trust in one’s self and in those one loves, the masterful Bausch delicately ponders the consequences of devastating loss on both a grand and personal scale. A luscious, sweeping heartbreak of a novel.”         
            —Booklist (starred review)
 
 “Winner of everything from a PEN/Malamud Award to the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Bausch offers a twentieth work of fiction that blends private and public trauma to devastating effect.”
            —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
 
“Gorgeous, emotionally complex . . . Bausch’s narrative voice is patient, compassionate, and observant, noting the small details that anchor the story in a concrete, fully realized world . . . He never judges [his characters]. He is not interested in whether their human limitations His handling of 9/11 as a background is sensitive and deft. Before, During, After is a beautiful and tender novel about the personal consequences of a cataclysmic national event.”
            —Jeanette Zwart, Shelf Awareness 

“A tale of trust and loss . . . Bausch excels at capturing the mood of Americans in the days and weeks following 9/11—equal parts camaraderie and suspicion.”
            —Publishers Weekly
 
“Authentic . . . compelling . . . Bausch has created flawed characters searching for the courage to move forward through uncertainty . . . Has the feel of a Tennessee Williams play.”
            —Sally Bissell, Library Journal

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