Before The Flood
Published July 1, 2023
This is an atmospheric novella-length coming of age story about a teenager at an exclusive New England prep school, who is drawn into the mystery surrounding the death of another pupil. I was offered a copy to review by the author, who wrote one of my favourite books of the last few years, Memory of an Elephant. This was very different in tone and genre, but packed a lot in to its 136 pages.
Brian Reed, the eldest son of a distant entitled father and busy actress mother, gets by at school by keeping his head down and avoiding the bullying he sees being inflicted on younger, weaker boys. Then one of them is found drowned in the river, and Brian starts receiving anonymous notes urging him to investigate. Can he find out what happened without becoming a victim himself?
Unlike his previous book, this was a very American story, peppered with cultural references that had me reaching for google, but that should resonate with American readers. Lasker perfectly captures the arrogance and cruelty of a certain class of adolescent, shielded by their privilege and unaware of the challenges that lie ahead. The bullying is considered so normal that the teachers ignore it – or are perpetrators themselves. Partly autobiographical, Brian’s confusion and angst are eloquently rendered: he wishes he could do the right thing, but lacks the courage to stand up for and protect the less popular boys and become a target himself.
I liked all the sixties references, musical, literary and political – the story opens with the boys’ reacting to the news that JFK has been assassinated, but they soon retreat back inside the insular world of the school and its preoccupations – mostly team sports. This isn’t really a thriller, although there is a mystery. Rather it’s a thought provoking character-driven story – there’s no major twist, and the reveal is not a surprise although there’s a certain grim satisfaction in the outcome.