The first thing that will strike anyone who reads Where the Dog Star Never Glows is the absolute precision of author Tara L. Masih’s prose. Throughout this collection of short stories, Masih firmly establishes herself as a master of what Gustave Flaubert (among others, including Nelson Muntz) described as le mot juste. Hers is a vocabulary wide-ranging enough to speak with studied expertise on matters ranging from tourist traps in tropical climes to the last moments of old men in tired coal mining towns, yet natural enough to talk about the trials and tribulations of a young mother-to-be in the simplest of terms, like starting a Jeep and heading for the Circle K to buy groceries. In other words, Masih has done what so many other writers spend a lifetime attempting: she’s grown so comfortable with words — the very stuff, the atoms of literature itself — that she can breathe life into the fictional worlds of her imagination with the greatest of ease. At least, that’s how it feels from the outside. Like the best of artisans, she makes her job look easy.
Masih, however, is not just a wordsmith. She’s also a master of navigating the loneliest reaches of the human heart. In a story titled, “Say Bridgitte, Please,” she follows a lonely schoolgirl down a path toward what may either be self-discovery or self-destruction, proving, as Carson McCullers once suggested, that the heart is the loneliest of hunters. Yet the author’s vision is not without hope: early on, Masih offers “The Guide, The Tourist, and the Animal Doctor,” in which the key to the human heart is revealed to, on occasion, take the form of a pair of tennis shoes; while later in the collection, a very short piece titled “Suspension” suggests that the kindness of strangers can offer the greatest comfort any of us might ever hope to experience. We are all lonely in some way, Where the Dog Star Never Glows reminds us, yet, in the end, loneliness is only what we make of it.
Where the Dog Star Never Glows is an amazing collection of short fiction that introduces Tara L. Masih as a true artist of the short story whose way with words is matched only by her intuitive grasp of all that makes us human. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what this author does next.