Book Review: 'Before the End, After the Beginning'

Dec 20, 2011
Originally published on December 20, 2011 4:09 pm
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In 2009, a stroke interrupted the life of Texas writer Dagoberto Gilb. He's since returned to writing with a new book, called "Before the End, After the Beginning." It's a collection of short stories - some written before his illness, some after. Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The first story in this collection, a piece called "Please, Thank You," recounts - complete with short stints of aphasia - the painstaking recovery from a stroke made by a middle-aged, Mexican-American father and writer. We live through his difficult interchanges with nurses and therapists, with his children, and his struggle to regain his sense of language and decorum.

The rest of the stories in this collection treat the life and times of a number of other troubled characters: children caught up in the turmoil of family life, men caught up in difficulties with money and with their jobs, or lack of them.

The narrator of "The Last Time I Saw Junior" meets an old friend and gets sucked into a worrisome drug deal. The musician and householder in the story called "Cheap" hires a contractor for a painting job, and becomes entangled in the problems of the man's illegal workers.

The situations 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, displaying the nuances and sorrows of contemporary Texas and Los Angeles. All of it adds up to a realistic portrait of how Chicano or gringo; black, white, brown, yellow; in Texas or Tennessee; how a lot of us live now.

SIEGEL: The latest book from Texas author Dagoberto Gilb is called "Before the End, After the Beginning." Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.