A collection of short stories that deal primarily with grief and despair, both in this life and the next, may not always be the best read. Undoubtedly Dog Boy and Other Harrowing Tales by Erica-Lynn Huberty should probably not be read by beachgoers on a sunny day. However, if one wishes to curl up in front of the fireplace and sip mulled cider on a chilly autumn night, then there may be no better read then Huberty’s collection of short writings.
Harrowing is indeed what these stories are – a compilation of haunting, Victorian style writings that blend the genres of mystery and horror through use of different narratives and time periods. There are only six stories, making the book a thin addition to the bookshelf, but do not mistake this for a volume that will become dusty and easily forgotten among larger doorstop novels. The tales in this collection, short though they may be, are memorable.
The first three stories take place in the latter half of the 20th century. The book’s title story is the first one in the collection and is about an experiment at a prison in the 1980s. Huberty immediately switches gears in her storytelling: the next story takes place in the 1940s and is told from the point of view of a little girl. In the third story, a homeless woman living in a Parisian cemetery in the 1970s tells the story of her past and her present among the graves of famous individuals.
These tales are purposefully vague and, in true Gothic style, hint at a melancholy kind of eeriness. There is a surreal quality to them that at the same time is very sad; all of these characters are, in their own way, tortured souls. Sometimes the action is a little slow to develop, but in this genre that is acceptable and adds to the ambience of the novel.
While the first three stories are good, the last three are even better. The fourth and fifth story take place much earlier in time and Huberty shows a real talent for writing different time periods and imagining what those eras may have been like. “In Blackbrooke Hall,” the fourth story in Dog Boy…, is easily the scariest and most forthright piece of horror. In this particular story, a group of college friends spend New Year’s Eve on the brink of 1919 in a mansion that holds a dark and terrible evil.
Huberty has captured the essence of young people in the post-World War I era, and she blends this into her story well. Readers may notice the This Side of Paradise-type atmosphere to the characters. If Fitzgerald had written horror, the result may have been something like this tale from Erica-Lynn Huberty. This, combined with the overall creepiness of the story, reflects Huberty’s talent as an author.
The fifth tale - “The Dream” - dates farthest back, dipping into the 19th century. Huberty took this story as an excerpt from her novel Crewel Wing, and it does well in this collection as a stand-alone. There is an antiquity to the writing of this story as the setting changes across the countryside, lending the tale an almost medieval feel, even though it takes place in 1883. Since this story is so well done, and the piece of a larger book, it stands to reason that her novel will be something to look forward to.
In time-tested fashion, Huberty saves the best for last. “The Black Cat,” the sixth and final tale in Dog Boy…, is easily the best of the whole book and a fitting and successful way to round out the collection. Taking place in present day, the story presents a powerful message about grief and loss. The sentences are packed with vibrant imagery and intense emotion, so much so that it makes the story about as close to perfect as a short story can be. This last tale redeems what few criticisms readers may have of the earlier stories.
Dog Boy and Other Harrowing Tales is an intense collection of talent presented to the readers in great storytelling fashion. It is also a self-published book that has transcended the usual barriers presented to people who take that route into the literary world. It has received all kinds of notice and accolades from major players in the book business, and after reading the stories it is easy to see why. Erica-Lynn Huberty has a talent that surpasses most, and these stories will resonate with readers, leaving a lasting impression that may well span decades - just as her stories do.