Before the End, After the Beginning
Storiesby Dagoberto Gilb
A raw, honest, and personal new collection of stories from acclaimed storyteller Dagoberto Gilb, “an important voice in American fiction.” (Annie Proulx)
Before the End, After the Beginning is an exquisite collection of ten stories by Dagoberto Gilb. The pieces come in the wake of a stroke Gilb suffered at his home in Austin, Texas, in 2009, and a majority of the stories were written over his many months of recovery. The result is a powerful and triumphant book that tackles common themes of existence and identity and describes the American experience in a raw, authentic vernacular unique to Gilb.
These ten stories take readers through the American Southwest, from Los Angeles and Albuquerque to El Paso and Austin. Gilb covers territory touched on in some of his earlier work—a mother and son’s relationship in Southern California in the story “Uncle Rock,” and a character looking to shed his mixed-up past in “The Last Time I Saw Junior”—while dealing with the themes of mortality and limitation that have arose during his own illness. The collection’s most personal story, “Please, Thank You,” focuses on a man who has been hospitalized with a stroke, and paints in detail the protagonist’s relationship with his children and the nurses who care for him. The final story, “Hacia Teotitlín,” looks at a man, now old, returning to Mexico and considering his life and imminent death.
Short stories are the perfect medium for Gilb, an accomplished storyteller whose debut collection, The Magic of Blood, won the prestigious PEN/ Hemingway Foundation Award for fiction in 1994. Before the End, After the Beginning proves that Gilb has lost none of his gifts, and that this may be his most extraordinary achievement to date.
“[A] collection distinguished by a steadfast lightness of touch . . . [Gilb] brings lived-through-it detail to all of these stories.” —Susannah Meadows, The New York Times
“[Readers] luxuriate in . . . prose that is as sudden as it is meditative. . . . [Before the End, After the Beginning] places Gilb’s talent for rendering the mundane into myth on full display.” —Robert Ontiveros, San Francisco Chronicle
“Accessible and resonant . . . [these] are such true, human stories.” —San Antonio Express
“Stark, realistic, and told in mostly gritty matter-of-fact prose . . . Gilb portrays his characters simply and powerfully, without apology; even his unnamed characters represent the plight of not only every working-class Mexicano but Everyman.” —Boston Globe
“The situations [in these stories] are part of the everyday, normal struggle to keep one’s head above water and one’s heart sane. Dagoberto Gilb writes about these matters in a mature and subtle manner.” —Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered
“[These stories] are about the real world, where things are complex and messy, where race and sex and age and social and economic status cannot be so cleanly disentangled from one another . . . Gilb’s characters are complex in real-to-life ways . . . [Before the End, After the Beginning] will stay with you long after you are done.” —Washington Independent Review of Books
“Against a prose style that is as sudden as it is suddenly musical, the reader will encounter urban fables . . . [that] are as fun as they are phantasmagorical. Taken together in this marvelous collection, they exlpore a man’s ascent toward responsibility as well as his eventual acceptance of grace.” —Latino Magazine
“Don’t dare put Gilb’s writing in any category. He’s as fine at the lyrical as he is at the vernacular. And his subject is as universal as it can get: the mystery of existence . . . Triumphantly, Gilb built this book. It’s masterful, bottom to top.” —Dallas Morning News
“Where are we when we are before the end yet after the beginning? We are in the midst of life, where everything happens. Before the end and after the beginning, one celebrates a perfect sixth birthday, looks for a job, has an affair, remembers old girlfriends, suffers a stroke. These are the moments Dagoberto Gilb describes in his elegiac third story collection.” —New York Times Book Review
“Gilb is arguably the most critically acclaimed Mexican American author writing today. . . . Before the End, After the Beginning [offers] exquisitely careful explorations of the human condition—love and lust, identity and confusion, weakness and death. . . . A marvelous book by one of the country’s best story writers, period.” —Oscar Villalon, ZYZZYVA
“Gilb’s voice has an authenticity that’s unimpeachable.” —Steve Bennett, San Antonio Express-News
“Dagoberto Gilb’s mission in Before The End, After the Beginning is not to dazzle and amaze, but to implode myths and misconceptions, to expose us to forgotten and subterranean characters in constant transition and exile; characters inured to injury and pain, heartbreak and woe—yet who never jettison hope for a better life, nor a future uncertain, yet still very much possible. These Chicano dreamers are lovelorn and love-tossed, broken-yet-healing, but most of all, on the road to recovery from an America that shuts its eyes and ears at their very existence. Gilb shows us that every man, woman and child is a citizen of hope, succors the birthright of love and freedom in their hearts, and sin fronteras, can, and will, emerge victorious. Make no mistake about it, by the end of Before The End, After the Beginning, you will be dazzled. And amazed.” —ZZ Packer
“Of their surfaces, these are quirky, confronting, intense, often darkly funny stories—worth it for that alone. But from underneath, Gilb unearths a sense of profound human longing and a dream of harmony which (the stories makes perfectly clear) could be reached no other way.” —Richard Ford
“Demonstrates that the author has more power than ever in addressing the conditions and contradictions of being split across cultures, and reminds us that every American, native or immigrant, is the product of a society that must learn to share or risk losing its founding graces.” —Publishers Weekly
“Poignant . . . [with] a keen perception of human nature . . . Gilb writes masterfully, displaying his talent for powerful storytelling. One thing is for certain and that is readers will absorb these characters and empathize and remember them. Before the End, After the Beginning is a short book but will leave an impression for a long time.” —Zetta Brown, New York Journal of Books
“The latest collection from the master storyteller . . . There is so much substance to Gilb’s tales . . . The terrible things that befall a man are not always his fault, Gilb seems to say with these stories, but neither, alas, are the blessings: the children who play at your feet, that girl who accepts your kiss, and that land you return to before you die.” —Robert Ontiveros, Texas Observer
“Accessible and resonant . . . Such true, human stories.” —Yvette Benavides, San Antonio Express-News
“Like [Raymond] Carver, Gilb focuses his stories on working-class men who are slowly awakening to their ineptitude at relationships, who have a hard time shaking off old addictions, and who can’t quite move their careers out of neutral. What distinguishes Gilb is his deft handling of race: The heroes in these ten sharp stories are mostly Mexican-American men who weather plenty of prejudice. . . . Gilb gets excellent mileage from simple elements. Though the men in these stories have common concerns, each feels distinct and alive.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[Gilb] is in fine form . . . He’s simply telling good stories: of men who are both Mexican and American, who are cultured and uncouth, who look at wealth from the outside and, occasionally, from within. A student may make something of himself; a poor young father might fall through the cracks; an older man might discover something new. They are formed outside themselves, but they are no finished yet.” —Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
“I was moved. Gilb had me, and never let me go for the duration of the collection, ten stories that I eagerly devoured. . . . The language is deceptively simple and the pages fly by. The characters are well-drawn, yet the twists and turns remain unpredictable. . . . The collection as a whole will stay with you long after you are done.” —Josh Trapani, Washington Independent Book Review
“Written with compassion and grace . . . This is a collection that deserves conversation.” —The Feminist Texican blog
“A powerful and triumphant book that tackles common themes of existence and identity and describes the American experience in a raw, authentic vernacular unique to Gilb. The collection proves that, despite what he has gone through, Gilb has lost non of his immense gifts. Indeed, this may be his most extraordinary achievement to date.” —Sir Reads Alot blog
A San Antonio Express-News Best Book of the Year 2011
At first, their people came and went. My children or the few close friends who worried about me dying, they came and stayed some too. I’m talking about staff people. Nurses? Not all of them. Or they all weren’t schooled as nurses, years of classes, even if they acted like they are or even do what nurses do. They do something every hour. If i tried to say something, they started asking the same questions. What is your name? What is the date? Where were you born? Like that. Or sometimes, Como te llamas? Que es la fecha de hoy? Like I’m from Mexico and just crossed, not American like them. I’m from here! I’ll bet my family’s been here longer than yours! I was semper fi, cabron, and then I was an ironworker for ten years, were you? Always, always has made me so mad, even if I don’t say it out loud to these people here.
I was cooperative the first few times, but then I just wanted to be given answers to what i was asking. Like, am I going to get better? Or worse? I didn’t like them ignoring me, or acting as if what I said was not important. Even if it wasn’t. I knew what they were thinking. I was someone who didn’t matter, who didn’t count much. In the large, I know it’s true. I am a name, just another, one they think is foreign even, when there are so many hurting. But then, so what? I accept it always, in my life, but now too? It makes me mad.