Before the End, After the Beginning

By Dagoberto Gilb (Grove, 2011)

Dagoberto Gilb is the Austin-based author of the artfully unsettling novel The Flowers and the culturally assuaging essays in Gritos---which, between a recipe for cooking coyote and a meditation on Machismo, offered his take on a doomed flirtation with Hollywood as well as a not so doomed flirtation with Dallas actress Victoria Principal.

With his latest collection of short stories, Before the End, After the Beginning, the ex-carpenter and student of world religion returns to the form that, since the publication of The Magic of Blood in 1994 lent him his initial, and indeed, lasting praise. Against a prose style that is as sudden as it is suddenly musical, the reader will encounter urban fables such as “His Birthday,” in which the hectic joy of a working class family rushing their way to a toy store takes on a mythic vibe, as well as the stark and hilarious “Blessings” wherein a sketchy guy with empty beer cans in his vehicle stops to visit an ex-girlfriend who is now married, fools around with her as she breastfeeds her infant, doesn’t get in any trouble with her husband, who in the morning offers him blue tortilla chips, but---through a comedy of misplaced manners at a breakfast café---cannot avoid getting in trouble with the local cops.In “please, thank you,” a story written from the point of view of a man recovering from a stroke, we get broken, un-capitalized lines that inform on our hero’s identity issues as well as his struggles with overcoming stereotypical assumptions.

The ten stories in Before the End, After the Beginning, some of which have first seen print in the New Yorker, Harper’s and the Threepenny Review, take readers from the existential crisis experienced by a middle-aged man at the mercy of a hospital staff congregating in shifts around his remote control bed, to the uneasily digested emotions of an adolescent boy who must endure witnessing men making unwanted advances at his gorgeous mother at restaurants.

Read these stories one at a time---they are as fun as they are phantasmagorical. Taken together in this marvelous collection, they explore a man’s ascent towards responsibility as well as his eventual acceptance of grace.

Roberto Ontiveros