Review: The Baby Comb by José Sotolongo

 Darlene Campos reviews José Sotolongo’s ‘The Baby Comb‘ published in Litro.  


José Sotolongo’s “The Baby Comb” tells the story of Russell, a young up and coming actor whose past heavily affects his present. The story begins with beautiful imagery of Russell’s little sister, Sara. Sotolongo uses descriptive language like “little cauliflower heads” for her feet and “round pink cheeks.” Due to her special needs, Russell’s parents, who are painted as coldhearted, terse individuals, Sara is placed in a facility for the rest of her short life. Russell yearns to visit her, but each time he has an opportunity, his parents prevent him from doing son.

He later finds out his parents did this because he was “obsessed with her.” The story then cuts away to adult Russell, who’s now nearly thirty, struggling to land a prominent acting role as well as struggling in his relationships with women. I will admit it was a bit hard to feel empathy for Russell in the latter part of the story because of his dismissive nature towards his girlfriend, Mina. But, the trauma of Sara’s death comes back up during Russell’s adulthood, so I was able to see why Russell began to behave a certain way. For example, after Russell lands an acting gig, he sees his name on the play’s poster outside of the theater. He notices his name is a bit smaller than the leading actors, but then Sotolongo writes “The reflection in the window reminded him of the last time he had seen Sara in the institution.”

It is said that Russell wants to pursue acting in honor of Sara and this line brings this idea so strongly. It’s such a powerful line to read. Right after this line, it is said that Russell’s parents will not attend opening night because they have a bridge game, which only furthers their coldhearted characteristics. Towards the end of the story, we are introduced to a woman wearing a short green coat. She follows Russell around in the streets and at first, he takes her to be a dangerous woman until he finds out from an ID badge she is wearing that she is an escapee from an institution for disabled adults.

Though he has been very inconsiderate to Mina and his character has turned somewhat unlikeable, this is a moment when the old Russell comes out again. He hails a cab for the woman in the green coat and he accompanies her along the ride to her institution and this is when the story ends. Russell desires to be an actor to honor his sister’s memory, but it is made clear that he honors her memory by helping others in similar situations. He is officially changed by the closing of the story. Sotolongo’s images, diction, and characterization push “The Baby Comb” forward to the reader.

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About the reviewer: Darlene P. Campos is the author of BEHIND MOUNT RUSHMORE and SUMMER CAMP IS CANCELLED. She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and pet rabbit, Jake.

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Reviews of short stories can be sent to

(The story should be published in English in any online journal. Pick one or more short story. The story should be available online and published between 2012-2018. Preferably Asian journal/ writer. Within 800 words.)

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