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New York, New York

Before by Irini Spanidou

Reviewed by John Burgman

You really want to help the characters in Irini Spanidou's new novel, Before. They exist in a past version of New York City -- a somber 1970s version, where cocaine and 'ludes are constantly taken amid a backdrop of hippie and punk music. You hope things for everyone will get better, not worse. But you've seen enough episodes of VH-1's Behind the Music to know that things never got better in the 70s. That'd be too easy.

The novel follows Beatrice, a stunning yet dejected 25 year-old, as her marriage to a B-list artist falls apart. She attempts to fill that looming void by drinking and finding love elsewhere. (Some things don't change.) But the void is too deep, the city too unforgiving.

Spanidou's writing is appropriately hypnotic given the slenderness of the plot, and luckily she never heads too far down the woe-is-me road with Beatrice. You'll feel for her situation. But more, you'll be enthralled by the squalid bars and lonely nights that helped cause it. And that's the key: you may be disgusted or scared by the broken city Spanidou writes about, but you won't be able to resist a visit.

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