Before and After Critical Essays

Rosellen Brown

Before and After

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Until Jacob Reiser admits to his parents that he killed his girlfriend, readers of BEFORE AND AFTER are not sure that he committed the crime. The novel opens in a hospital emergency room as Carolyn Reiser, Jacob’s mother, administers to the girl. She soon finds out that her son is accused of bludgeoning her to death.

None of the family members can believe that Jacob is guilty. His failure to appear at home casts suspicion on him, but Carolyn, his father Ben, and his sister Judith try to protect Jacob’s innocence, both in their own minds and in material ways. Ben goes the farthest in this. When he finds a bloody jack-handle in his son’s car trunk, he removes that evidence before police can search the car.

The police eventually capture Jacob. He refuses at first to speak to his parents; it is only after they hire a lawyer and get him released on bail that he confesses to them. The family then splits over the issue of whether Jacob should tell the truth to his lawyer or let the lawyer represent him without knowing the complete story.

Chapters tell the story from three different characters’ points of view. Carolyn and Judith’s chapters are in the third person, but Ben relates events in the first person. This makes his emotions and his vehement defense of his son even more engaging. The conflict between Carolyn, a logical pediatrician, and Ben, a somewhat flighty artist, over how their son’s defense should be conducted forms one strand of the story. Judith’s chapters reveal Jacob’s character and destroy the innocent image of him created by his parents’ recollections, making plausible the idea that he could have killed his girlfriend. Jacob’s story comes only through the experiences of others.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. September 6, 1992, XIV, p. 1.

Houston Post. September 20, 1992, p. E1.

Los Angeles Times. September 3, 1992, p. E4.

The Nation. CCLV, September 28, 1992, p. 333.

The New Republic. CCVII, November 2, 1992, p. 40.

The New York Review of Books. XL, January 14, 1993, p. 36.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, August 23, 1992, p. 1.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, August 31, 1992, p. 54.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, August 30, 1992, p. 3.

Women’s Review of Books. X, November, 1992, p. 5.