Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"The Dog Stars" by Peter Heller

Oh, my! Nearly three weeks since my last review. I did actually read a book in between this and the last review (City of Thieves, for my book club), but since I had already reviewed it, I didn't do a rewrite. But, now I'm back, having finished Heller's The Dog Stars, a piece of quiet and moving apocalyptic fiction.

In the years since a deadly strain of flu killed most of the world's inhabitants, Hig has been living in an abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and his surly gun-freak neighbor Bangley. Hig's only solace is in fishing and flying his Cessna around the deserted landscape. Though the world's tragedies (like the death of Hig's wife) are many years past, the weight of the purposeless life, the killing of any people trying to enter the airport, begins to get to him--and I can't say much more without spoilers.

Pretty immediately The Dog Stars reminded me of The Road, with is sparse prose and un-punctuated dialogue. The book reads as a sort of stream-of-consciousness inside Hig's head, with equal parts poetry and confusion. Though the style isn't straight-forward, it does allow you to connect intimately with Hig's feelings for everything around him: Jasper, Bangley, the land and sky, his plane.

What I most appreciated was the way the novel explores the complicated answer to "what is life?".  Later in the book, a character notes that life before the apocalypse was always spent in waiting, something I can understand. Waiting for the weekend; for the big vacation; for the big life change. Life after the apocalypse is devoid of waiting, for better and for worse.

Apocalyptic fiction can easily veer too far toward tragedy or too far toward cliche reconciliation, but The Dog Stars balances both nicely, with rewarding resolution without neat solutions.


  1. This: "Apocalyptic fiction can easily veer too far toward tragedy or too far toward cliche reconciliation." It's so true. I think a lot of adult apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic leans on tragedy and horror, and a lot of YA is of the happy ending/hope variety. I'm glad to hear that this one straddles the line. Love the simplicity of the cover, too. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You're totally right about the YA/adult divide. I hated the YA Life as We Knew it because it ended way too happily, but then I also felt put off by the dreariness of the adult dystopia The Age of Miracles. Yay for something in the middle!

  3. Also, I saw this review just now and thought of you... http://yummy-books.com/2013/03/15/the-dog-stars-whole-roasted-branzino-with-herb-butter/

  4. Aw, thanks for sharing! "The Road with hope" is a perfect way to describe Dog Stars. And I love the review/recipe combination!