Irini Spanidou

Before [Alfred A. Knopf]

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Irini Spanidou

SoHo? So so

Beatrice has what it takes to be one of those reality-show/Internet vixens that muck up the pop-culture discourse these days: a mess of beauty and sex and dubious potential. A staggering beauty, at 25 she is a thesis short of a college degree, lives on a modest trust fund, and doesn’t do much else. Her artist-on-the-verge husband—and, it seems, just about everyone else she knows—doesn’t need her for more than sex (or the prospect of it).

This would be enough of a life if she had a webcam. Problem is, author Spanidou sticks Bea in 1970s New York, where one at least needed to be interesting, if not gainfully occupied. The Vietnam War, The Who’s lyrics, even a Lou Reed cameo—somehow all feel extraneous here. SoHo, as a factory wasteland of daily, violent crime, isn’t drawn convincingly enough to erase visions of the Prada Epicenter. Before feels like it’s been stranded in a past that denies it any relevance.

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