Where The Dog Star Never Glows
 by Tara Masih

Press 53
2010, Paperback
First collection

awards: Finalist, National Best Book Awards 2010

Win a copy of this book! See the Competitions page for details.

"Countless times I stand on the threshold of her doorway.  I can’t move forward or retreat.  I stand, staring at death.  I understand families who pull the plug on their brain-dead relatives. Yet my mother will rise up again, when her voices grow weaker and her spirit stronger, and every time I see this perpetual, tortured resurrection, I move on, with less desire."

Reviewed by Michelle Reale

While written in simple and unadorned prose, the stories in Tara Masih’s debut collection succeed so well, because the devil is in the details, and she gets all of them right. The ability to feel uncomfortable when reading a short story indicates a deep understanding or revelation of some kind that one can relate to. Masih deposits her readers in locales that may or may not be familiar ones to us, But what happens to her characters in these different places are things that will surely resonate.

In the title story, we meet Cap, a man born into the brutal coal mining profession. While he has just barely escaped an almost always fatal cave-in, walking on his way home, he sees the new symbol of death, a man-made star:
"Not a star of Bethlehem, guiding everyone to life, but a death start, hung to announce the untimely passing of one of his sons. A new symbol of death fast replacing the ambulance cross, cutting into the new generation."
In Asylum, Bliss, named by her mother "… more from hope than intuitions," tells the story of growing up with her schizophrenic mother, June. After her father left, Bliss watched her mother slowly succumb to the ravages of mental illness, while often lucid enough to work small jobs such as stapling pinwheels together at home, telling her daughter "I’m making sure I have burial insurance so you won’t have to worry, Bliss." If the devil is in the details, this is one story in which Masih gets it right in nearly every single line. The poignant details of the mother’s best attempts to do the best she can are absolutely heartbreaking. All the while, Bliss is vigilant of the symptoms of the illness that might well have been passed on to her by her mother, lying dormant in her own brain, waiting to make its debut:
"My own voices are beginning: Could this be you?  Will this be you? Did Grandmother Mae pass this curse along to June? Did June pass it to Bliss? Every day I listen for devils, gage my withdrawal from the outside world. And I begin to live in a tunnel, my future narrowing to a small, distant point I am afraid to see."

Two short pieces, Huldi and Suspended, respectively, are remarkable for their condensed but intense window into two vastly different experiences. In the former, a young Indian bride submits herself to the age old pre-marriage rituals. While society expects her to keep her eyes downcast and her manner "fey," she burns with desire of the unknown, awakened by the motion of her mother’s hands applying the purifying paste all over her body.

In Suspended a woman hits an animal, sailing her Pontiac "into the limbs of an evergreen that roots below the macadam edge."  While the woman must quickly ascertain whether she is dead or not (she decides she isn’t) she exists for seven days in the limbs of the tree until she is rescued.

Masih is a master of the small moment, the intricate detail, the aura of déjà vu, and more than accomplished at writing stories about one of the greatest human qualities, intimacy, and how the attempt, more than the failure or success, is really most important.

Win a copy of this book! See the Competitions page for details.

Read a story from this collection on AsiaWrites

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has been published in a variety of venues such as Eyeshot, Word Riot, Smokelong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Blue Print Review, Dark Sky Magazine, elimae  and many others others. She is the author of the fiction chapbook Natural Habitat, recently published by Burning River. Her fiction/prose poem chapbook, Like Lungfish Getting Through the Dry Season, will be forthcoming from Thunderclap Press.

Michelle's other Short Reviews: Sana Krasikov "One More Year"

Jody Lisberger "Remember Love"

Anne Donovan "Hieroglyphics"

Joan Aiken "The Serial Garden"

Shellie Zacharia "Now Playing"

Eva Tihanyi "Truth and Other Fictions"

Stefanie Freele "Feeding Strays"

Kathryn Ma "All That Work And Still No Boys"

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Tara Masih is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year) and author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows: Stories (a finalist in the Best Books 2010 Awards). She has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. Several limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction have been published by The Feral Press.

Read an interview with Tara Masih