Valley of the Dogs

Dark Stories

Fiction - Short Story/Novela
147 Pages
Reviewed on 05/27/2021
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Author Biography

Entering the consciousness of a reader is the most sacred enterprise an author can have. These stories have been collected as my Zen reflection during the past year’s COVID-19 plague. This shamanistic mental state, which the Japanese term “Mushin,” or “no mind” is close to the stream-of-consciousness technique that Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac, James Joyce, and William Faulkner used to such success. However, it is also a form of channeling that defies definition. This is the mystical realm that creatives around the world know so well, and we worship at its altar every day we put fingers to keys or pen to paper. I want to thank readers who enjoy dark stories, as in this age of political correctness and what publishers often term “accessibility,” it is becoming more difficult for us authors, especially us authors who don’t make a lot of money from our work, to find an audience. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that if the author does make a lot of money from a dark story, he/she will get marketing to back him/her up to ride the tide of money to the bank. If you ride this wave of Gustav, and all the other characters in my collection, then thanks for that. It’s been a tough year for all of us. Bless you.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite

“This framework of bone protruded against his olive complexion like a demon attempting to escape its elastic cage.” This impeccably written simile demonstrates the incredible level of creative intelligence and literary skill one finds in the superb collection of short stories authored by James Musgrave in Valley of the Dogs. Intelligence and skill permeate and inform each story, imbuing all with the kind of refreshing energy and interest necessary to qualify this achievement as a true renovation and celebration of an otherwise (somewhat) moribund genre of fiction. The golden era of short story writing often seems lost in a past made hazy by the high-tech sponsored emasculation of attention spans and the elevation of hyper-short, sparsely limpid flash fiction into a respectable replacement for adulation. Musgrave shows this new emperor is also without clothes. Rejoice.

Valley of the Dogs by James Musgrave does not resurrect those golden days of short story writing, but it certainly reinstates the field’s dignity and stature, even while adhering to a more concisely told tale – an understandable concession to the modern mind. What these stories lack in unduly protracted exposition is more than compensated for by their acute perfection of voice and quality of expression. Repetitively, each story reeks of editorial precision and literary skill. They are remarkable, really. Franz Kafka and George Gershwin collaborate on Broadway – with inevitably Kafkaesque results. Insanity explored from the inside makes sanity look crazy. Suicide prevention works both ways. Plots like these, so novel as to seem utterly unique, make Valley of the Dogs a collection to be savored, saved, and saluted.

Astrid Iustulin

Valley of the Dogs is one of the most noteworthy collections of short stories I have ever read. This intriguing volume, written by James Musgrave, gathers eleven stories addressing the theme of "star power." They are very different in settings, times, and characters (one of them, the one that gives the book its title, is told by a dog), but their common purpose is to satirize what they present. Moreover, as stated in the introduction, Valley of the Dogs wants to be a "remedy" to the worldwide pandemic we all know so well.

Valley of the Dogs was, for me, a memorable journey. The themes are complex and therefore stimulating so that the book was a pleasure to read. The stories are very well written and reveal the author's keen eye for detail. James Musgrave is not one of those writers who contents himself merely to entertain the reader. On the contrary, my impression is that he wants us to meditate on the topics of the book, and for this reason, each story is perfectly chiseled. I confess that the elegance of Musgrave's prose enchanted me. Although I cannot linger on each story in my short review, I take advantage of these few lines to praise their balanced structure and the interesting characters they present (did I mention that one of them is Kafka?). I started reading Valley of the Dogs by chance, but it turned out to be one of my finest literary encounters. I hope to read more books by James Musgrave soon.

Rabia Tanveer

Valley of the Dogs: Dark Stories by James Musgrave is a collection of 11 short stories with a very classic tone that will be enjoyed by readers of all ages. As the subtitle suggests, these are dark stories that will make you think but keep you entertained at the same time. The stories take inspiration from real-life stories in exploring what could happen to some historical authors from the literary world if they chose a different path. The author delves deep into religion and how people’s belief systems may have been shaken by what happened the previous year and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each story has a backstory that the author shares in the preface and allows readers to experience before reading the story.

Each of the 11 stories is detailed and has a full plot. I don’t know how James Musgrave did it, but he managed to tell a complete tale in a limited number of pages and show readers a whole picture of what his characters are going through. Out of all these stories, I liked “I’m Goin’ Down,” “The Prophet” and “The Church of Lady Haha” the best. These stories were the most complex and had the most well-rounded characters. Spence is almost cruel with himself, but not with the other men around him who are suffering from the same ailment. Suicidal thoughts are not pretty, and the author does not try to sugarcoat them. Anita’s story spoke to me, and Minerva’s story made me think about the hardships of the previous year. The narrative flows smoothly from one story to another. You can feel the emotions the characters are feeling and almost feel their pain. Valley of the Dogs is not a light collection, but it is a must-read! I loved the collection and the cover art.

James Musgrave

My short stories received an overall 9.25 rating at Publisher's Weekly Book Prize.