Before (Knopf) is Irini Spanidou's third novel in as many decades. It depicts, with delicacy, compression, and vibrant intensity, three months in the life of Beatrice, a young married woman living in a postindustrial loft space in downtown New York City in the 1970s. Her marriage is near its end, and so are her wits. Her name, which means "blessed," evokes the ideal, saintly woman of Dante's Divine Comedy, and blessed and ideal she once was: gorgeous, sexy, smart, the object of hundreds of lusts and affections. But as the novel opens, we find her stunned, lost in her own tour of hell. The charcoal gloom of that era and of her marriage, the booze and drugs, the late nights and loveless sex with an array of unhelpful men, drain her slowly of some essential light. The marriage crumbles and her life spins out of her grasp until finally, damaged and then cleansed, standing in darkness, she once again gains a degree of self-knowledge and control, a hard-won portion of maturity and hope. Spanidou's beautiful writing almost perfectly evokes the 1970s in New York, its fascinating characters, its low rents and withheld ambitions—her sentences have just the right measure of elegant lassitude, of quiet, humming sexiness, and of a singular devotion to seeing things deeply, no matter what the cost.