Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Title: The Dog Stars
Author: Peter Heller
Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries
Released: May 2013
Source: my personal library

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and to pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life—something like his old life—exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return—not enough fuel to get him home—following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face—in the people he meets, and in himself—is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.

The Dog Stars has the standard elements of the usual post-apocalyptic novel: most of humanity has been wiped out, in this case due to a flu and then a blood disease; the protagonists defend their territory from the (mostly) antagonistic groups of people who remain; there is grief for what has been lost, and the ever-enduring hope for a better future and finding others like them; there are even a couple of action scenes.

But the novel’s delivery gives a unique spin. This is Hig’s story, told from his point of view, and wow, is it ever fragmented. Poor grammar, incomplete sentences that just kind of drift off… No quotation marks; sometimes you have to really concentrate to figure out if he’s talking to himself or to another. Hig refers to himself a “brain-cooked human.” I believe it because, wow, sometimes he is downright incoherent, but he mentions he was a writer before the flu hit. This approach is a daring choice on the author’s part, one I felt added to the post-apocalyptic confusion and fight to survive.

While reading, my mood went back and forth between the knot in your stomach you get watching The Walking Dead, and the overwhelming loneliness of a Jack London novel. It was an odd mix for me. The middle slowed down a bit, but that didn’t last too long. Overall, I did enjoy The Dog Stars, I just didn’t have many strong feelings about it either way.