Book review: Dagoberto Gilb’s “Before the End, After the Beginning”

In his collection of short stories, Before the End, After the Beginning, Dagoberto Gilb uses ordinary men to talk about the big issues of our time.

Gilb tackles the economy, the immigration hysteria in Arizona and the painfulness of life in these ten short stories. Gilb knows the last subject all too well – in 2009, the Texan suffered a stroke. His best story, “please, thank you,” is about a man who is recovering from a stroke. The narrator, who does not use capitalization or most punctuation, describes how the nurses help him through his excruciating therapy.

“i do exercises on the padded table. stretches of the calves. then the quads. then i get on my stomach. i am supposed to lift my foot and calf ninety degrees, starting with the left. nothing, easy. when i try my right, its like nothing connects the two leg bones but kneecap. my calf flops on either side of my body. it doesnt hurt, theres no physical pain, but inside me, silently, it might be the worst indignity yet, so hard I cant cry or rage. its as though I have been slugged very hard and the pain hasn’t checked in.”

In his other stories, Gilb writes about ordinary guys caught up in complicated situations, sometimes through no fault of their own – a man looking for work who stays with his mysterious aunt; a family celebrating a child’s birthday amidst crime in the neighborhood; and a musician who doesn’t like the way a contractor treats the employees hired to paint his home. Gilb writes in simple prose that is as unpretentious as his characters. The reader gets caught up in these people’s lives, hoping that the character doesn’t suffer too much.

In a few of the stories, the main character seems to get in some sort of trouble with the police, making these stories seem a bit repetitive. It would have been nice to see a couple of more humorous stories like “Uncle Rock,” in which a boy goes to his first baseball game. But, overall, these stories are a pleasure to read.

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More about Dagoberto Gilb:

• Gilb will tour several Texas cities with Aztec Muse magazine editor Tony Diaz. They’ll be in San Antonio Wednesday; Dallas, Thursday-Friday; and Houston, Nov. 16-17.

• The San Antonio Express-News ran an interview with Gilb about the book.

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1 Comment

Filed under 2011 Books, Book Reviews

One response to “Book review: Dagoberto Gilb’s “Before the End, After the Beginning”

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