You would think a collection of short stories imbued with meditations on mortality and the fragile nature of human existence itself would be ponderous and moribund. But that is certainly not the case with the latest book by celebrated writer Dagoberto Gilb. He deftly explores such issues through the perspectives of intriguing, complex characters and masterful sculpting with words. And there is subtle humor and sly wordplay as well, all adding up to a satisfying and heartwarming experience for the reader.
Gilb’s new book is an engaging and thought-provoking collection of short stories titled “Before the End, After the Beginning.” It’s a pity the short story, in the view of many, is a dying art form. This collection is a lively counterpoint to that assertion. Here’s a recommendation: turn of the TV tonight, settle into a comfortable chair and spend a pleasurable evening with this little treasure trove of a book.
Los Angeles-born Dagoberto Gilb is a prolific writer who has won the accolades of critics for more than twenty years. He is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking novel “The Magic of Blood.” It has been regarded as a landmark of Chicano literature. But it is much more than that. It transcends any pigeonholing of genre. It is an example of fine literature – period.
His new book was created under somewhat unusual circumstances. About two years ago Gilb was knocked for a loop when he suffered a debilitating stroke. Dogged persistence helped him gradually recover. And the stories in this collection were crafted during the process of his recovery. That process informs some of these stories, sometimes overtly and sometimes a bit more subtly.
The collection begins with a story titled “Please, Thank You.” It is told from the point of view of a young man in the hospital, feeling like a fish out of water. The character wakes up and finds he’s survived some severe medical trauma. He has trouble focusing. He has trouble remembering. He’s uncertain about the tactile world around him. He struggles as he tries to get his mind and his body to work in unison. And the tale is told in a style that befits the confused perspective of someone undergoing such an ordeal. It is all written in lower-case, with sparse and inconsistent punctuation. Again, a style that reflects the perspective of the character as he tries to make sense of his surroundings and sense of his own identity and personal history.
Gilb is quite the wordsmith. When he is at his best as a sculptor with words, he invites comparison to the lofty, magical prose of Salman Rushdie, among the most masterful of wordsmiths.
Another story in Gilb’s new collection weaves a tale of a man who goes to Mexico, seemingly with the intention of living out his final days. The gradual degeneration of his memory and ability to navigate the world around him evoke essential questions about who we are and what makes us what we are. Heady stuff. But woven in beautifully literate and accessible fashion. It is typical of the stories in this fine collection from one of this country’s most emerging innovative writers.