Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dagoberto Gilb, "Uncle Rock"

Dagoberto Gilb’s “Uncle Rock” (TNY, May 10, 2010) goes nowhere. Yes, you can fish out tiny specks that, stringed together, show that the main character is changing. But the story’s three short pages require much more patience than they should.

It’s a story about the morose 11-year-old son of a young, beautiful Mexican immigrant who keeps losing her jobs while she’s wooed by countless men. She is clearly looking for stability, and reaches for those men who seem to offer her that. A man called Roque pursues her dutifully and tenderly, but she appears to look for other, perhaps richer men instead. Erick, the boy, is initially not that much into Roque, and even tells his full-familied neighbor that Roque is his uncle; hence the title of the story. At one point, Erick goes to a baseball game with his mother and Roque, and Erick catches a home-run ball. A busload of players sign it, and we find out why: one of them wants Erick to pass a note on to his mother. He doesn’t.

And that’s it. The beginning is dull, merely a way to show how his mother’s suitors intrude on the boy’s life. The longish run on how Erick imagined Mexico (“They didn’t have toilets” and so on) betrays the author’s interest in Mexico, rather than making for a dynamic description crafted for a reader of fiction. Those seven sentences or so could have been clipped down to a few revealing brushstrokes, thus sparing us from recounting stereotypes we already know. Much of the rest of the story is spent on a character sketch of the pitiable boy towed through life by his mother. Some parts do evoke pity. But that’s far too little that is positive to say about a story published in The New Yorker.

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