Monday, January 16, 2012

Short Story Monday and Giveaway: Before the End, After the Beginning

I just finished reading a collection of ten short stories by Dagoberto Gilb called Before the End, After the Beginning. Overall, the collection was a powerful look at people in the midst of life changes dealing with hardships such as illness, poverty, and prejudice. The stories all take place in the Southwest United States and most feature a Mexican-American main character.

The first story in the collection, "please, thank you", is about a man recovering from a stroke. The story is strangely written, with mistakes and no capital letters - traits that are explained half way through the story:
"its like this typing though. which i hate. i hate the mistakes i have to fix, the waste of time, the enthusiasm they drain. you dont see them because of me. i make them right. im better at it too because im doing it, as you see. i type with my one hand. really its more one finger on the wrong hand. im right-handed, and now i can only use the left. im not bothering with the shift key or the apostrophe. i fix the other mistakes, slow as that is, i type y for t often, for instance, or o for p. i make extra letters where they dont belong, or i forget letters or spaces. i could make caps, not easy, bt i could. and apostropke.s. see those mistakes? im noy fixing them to show my point. that last little sentence has only one letter y instead of t typo in it. when i started typing, there was one in every word. sometimes now i put my right hand on this keyboard too, even though it really isnt close to helping. the index finger cant feel the keys, the right hand, and its fingers, have like a thick glove on it. the glove fits my hand so organically that it looks exactly like my hand used to. you cant tell them apart" (pg. 18-19).
"please, thank you" is made even more interesting by the fact that Gilb himself suffered a stroke in 2009. He wrote most of the stories in this book after the fact.

The story in the collection I feel is the strongest is called "Cheap" - it's a story that brings together issues like illegal immigration, race, politics, religion, and prejudice.  The main character is a Mexican-American man who was born in El Paso, but through his musical talent and "luck" moves to Austin and purchases a home in a nice neighborhood. When he needs the interior walls of his home painted, he calls around for estimates and finds them all more than he's willing to pay. He finally finds a handyman, named Luke, who agrees to take on the job for a very "cheap" price. It turns out that Luke can afford to charge so little because he hires illegal Mexicans to do the work - men that he pays poorly and treats like animals. All the while, Luke talks on and on about the "church" he recently joined that has "saved" him.

The main character, who is slowly going blind for unexplained reasons, is appalled by Luke and his treatment of Carlos and Uriel. He buys the workers lunch and considers hiring them directly to paint the rest of his house, without Luke as a middle man. The workers would get more of the money and for a cheaper price than what Luke would charge. The issues at hand force the main character, and subsequently the reader, to think about the price of saving money and the tensions between the law and morality when it comes to the treatment of illegal immigrants.

Three other stories in the collection that I especially enjoyed were "His Birthday," "Uncle Rock," and "Hasia Teotitlan." The collection of stories is powerful, and though I've never before read any of Gilb's work, Before the End, After the Beginning left a positive impression on me.

Because I normally try to share stories that my readers can read for themselves for free online and that is not the case with this book (and also because I have an extra copy), I am giving away a paperback ARC copy of Before the End, After the Beginning by Dagoberto Gilb.

The giveaway is open internationally and until the end of the month. Please fill out the form below to enter. Please see the "Policies" page of this website for full details.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.