Thursday, July 4, 2013

Books: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars' protagonist, Hig, has survived a terrible epidemic that has left just a handful of sparsely scattered survivors, all wary of contamination, poaching, and murder, and therefore fully armed and on the defensive. He lives with his dog, Jasper, and another man, Bangley, skilled in battle strategy and armaments, in a makeshift family compound; they banter like an old married couple. Hig has a plane and access to fuel, which gives them knowledge about the fates of nearby survivors and, most importantly, access to an abandoned soft drink truck with a stash of Coke. Eventually, tempted by a stray radio transmission, Hig needs to explore beyond their comfort zone and discovers another pair, a daughter and father, with whom he bonds after nearly getting offed by them.

In this novel, Heller expresses the profound loneliness that comes with the End, but he also elucidates the gifts of surviving, simply, amidst the beauty of nature. Sleeping under the stars, running streams and their habitats of fish, the delightful behavior of baby lambs. And most of all, Hig's inexpressably deep bond with his dog, Jasper, that goes beyond his human relationships. Heller sometimes writes in a clipped style, free of punctuation, but suitably uses language on an as-needed basis, in survival mode. He's also hilarious on occasion. It's hard not to compare this to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but with The Dog Stars you come away with indelible compassion for Heller's characters, and an appreciation for what life hands you. Riveting, compelling, memorable, and highly recommended.

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