Only Connect: Angela Lam on Tara Masih’s Where the Dog Star Never Glows

Where the Dog Star Never Glows, Tara L. Masih, Press 53, 2010

Tara L. Masih, an accomplished flash fiction writer whose work has garnered honors from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web, debuts with Where the Dog Star Never Glows, a collection of short stories that includes both poetic distillations and exotic locals that focus on the intimacy or the lack of intimacy in the characters’ lives.

In “The Guide, the Tourist, and the Animal Doctor,” Therese supplements her income as a tour guide in the East Caribbean through selling coconut pops to support her family after her husband abandons her for another woman. One of Therese’s clients asks for help for a tourist friend with an injured cat. Therese promises to offer assistance. She visits Irvin, the animal doctor, who loves Therese although he suspects “she might never believe that there was no one else but her that Irvin wanted, that she would always search the shadows for betrayal.” Irvin agrees to help the tourist, but his motives originate from his love for Therese although he has very little hope of breaking through Therese’s resistance. Masih’s skillful use of metaphor, imagery, and language enriches the narrative. Masih’s ability to always write from the depths of her character allows complete immersion in the experience of the tale. For example, when Masih describes Irvin’s struggle to connect more meaningfully with Therese, she writes, “Irvin always tried to lift their casual relationship to another level in the way he would lift the dead weight of an unconscious animal.”
Masih continues to explore the theme of intimacy in the story, “Ghost Dance.” Brandy, a divorced man, moves to a mining town that has been restored to a tourist attraction in Montana hoping to start over and rebuild his life. Brandy is closed off out of fear and the need for protection, although “what he was really scared of was himself.” Others in town pull him back into their world for a while, but Brandy always remains separate, especially once he starts hearing a ghost. The “silk against silk” sound he hears is the ghost of a school teacher who lies on a bed sobbing. Brandy reaches out to comfort her, but she disappears. The ephemeral connection between man and ghost parallels the transitory connection all humans experience. The intimacy between the ghost and Brandy is “as close as two different centuries could get without destroying the other’s illusion.” Masih knows the mystery of love relies as much on what is imagined about the beloved as what is real.

In “Say Bridgette, Please,” a young woman fails to connect with a man through sex. Mourning the death of her father and the boredom of summer, Bridgette seduces a man through her need to belong, to transcend her experience of living “right side up in an upside-down world.” But sex fails to deliver the sense of belonging she craves. The man’s scent lingers on her skin, and she plucks “a few flowers from the vine near her head to lay them on her chest to cover the scent.” The healing power of nature restores her sense of self, and she is able to write her name in the packed earth, both claiming her sense of belonging to the world and differentiating herself as an individual of value.
Some of the stories continue with the theme of connecting through nature. In “Suspended,” a woman survives an automobile accident with the help of a tree “who loves her too much to drop her.” When the woman is finally rescued a week later, “she still cries in grief when they (the rescuers) have to chainsaw through a heavy limb to release her.” The woman’s relationship with the tree reflects the biblical notion of the greatest love of all, which is to lay down one’s life for a friend. The tree allows itself to be sacrificed for the woman’s sake.
Other stories feature the hope for continual human connection, such as in “Huldi,” a story describing a young bride’s marriage preparations in India. The transformation from single to married, moving from one family to the creation of another through the loving bonds of sensual connection is best summed up by the narrator who “closes her eyes, imagines that Mama’s hands are his (her future husband’s).” In “Delight,” a disfigured young woman working in a candy shop in Puerto Rico discovers the tenderness of unconditional love in a visiting surfer who promises to come back for her.

All in all, Masih triumphs in her ability to convey the failure and success of the human longing for connectedness and individuality through her rich, poetic stories. Each story drips with striking images such as “evening’s August melon light,” “windows glazed with the fog of her breath,” “sesame seeds…like schools of white reef fish,” and “raining liquid sunshine.” Metaphors such as the machete in “The Guide, the Tourist, and the Animal Doctor” tie the story together and deliver a deeper meaning. Although the exotic locations from the Caribbean to India satisfy a level of voyeuristic curiosity, they more importantly unify the themes of longing, loneliness, and connection that affect all humans, regardless of their culture. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Where the Dog Star Never Glows by Tara L. Masih. The book is slim enough to devour in a weekend, although the stories, so textured and layered, are best savored one story at a time with long spaces in between to breathe and feel and dream.