Description (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.
Narrated by a man who is part warrior and part dreamer, a hunter with a great shot and a heart that refuses to harden, The Dog Stars is both savagely funny and achingly sad, a breathtaking story about what it means to be human.
The Dog Stars is a literary look at a post-apocalyptic world, along the lines of The Road. However, The Dog Stars has a much brighter outlook and is a much more hopeful look at man’s ability to survive, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well, in a world that has fallen apart.
I initially had a hard time getting into the story. I think there were two reasons: Heller’s writing is rather poetic, lacking much of the punctuation and structure I prefer in prose. I had to adjust to the rhythm and pacing of his language. The other reason is connected to the first: I began by reading a digital galley and the formatting was confusing. Normally I don’t have an issue with this, but Heller’s writing depends on things like line breaks and page layout to make sense. When those aspects are absent from the form, it is really hard to tell who is speaking or what is going on. I switched to a paper ARC (thank goodness I had it in both formats), and found it much easier to read after that. I have not seen a finished digital copy of this book, but readers might want to see if they can sample it on their ereaders before purchasing, in case the formatting wasn’t entirely fixed.
The plot of The Dog Stars was fine, but didn’t impress me much. I might just be too burned out on these kinds of stories. There’s something in the current zeitgeist that has resulted in a flood of post-apocalyptic tales, and it can take a bit to distinguish one from another for me. When the real end comes, I expect I’ll be thoroughly bored by it.
I was quite bored with the first part of this book as well. It takes its time setting up the characters and the world, and combined with the stream-of-consciousness narration, it was plodding at times. More happens later in the book, which managed to keep me engaged so I didn’t abandon my reading. The main character, Hig, has a really touching love for his dog, and keeps himself sane by flying his plane. Much of what he doesn’t isn’t so much for survival as it is to keep life worth living for him. A lot of the plot is very internal early on, and didn’t seem to pick up until there were more actual events and some danger to spice up the story.
I expect that there will be many fans of this book, but I’m left feeling a bit lukewarm. There are some lovely passages, and it’s nice to think that the death of most of humanity can leave a man feeling so spiritually connected, even in the face of cannibalism and destruction. However, the difficulty I had relating to the writing early on really colored my overall opinion of the novel.