Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
The pitch: It's nine years after a superflu has wiped out most of North America. Higg, one of the few survivors, has holed up in an airport in Colorado, where he maintains an 80-year-old Cessna (the book seems to take place in the mid-2030s). His only companions are a dog named Jasper and a heavily-armed misanthrope called Bangley, who's very skilled at shooting armed visitors before they realize what's going on (problem is, nearly everyone still alive in this world is armed in some way). Higg spends his days fishing and hunting with Jasper, the more emotionally available of his two friends, and flying perimeter patrols, during which he tries to warn away less-hostile-seeming visitors and occasionally drops in on a colony of Mennonites, who are all infected with some flu-related wasting disease.
Not surprisingly, Higg feels a bit lonely and yearns for something more than just surviving, while Bangley seems content to be left alone and views all other people as threats, as he does Higg's social and humanitarian urges. And to be fair, many of those who come calling do seem to have predatory intentions. Yet, Higg is unable to forget a voice he heard on his radio while flying, and wonders who it was.
For its first half, except for several bursts of hair-rising violence, this is a slow, quiet book, focused on its protagonist's feelings, memories, and existential doubts. There's stuff that anyone who's been through a traumatic experience involving the death of loved ones can relate to, and thoughts on how we create meaning by inventing small challenges for ourselves. Around the midway point of the novel, something happens that increases Higg's desire for contact, and he sets off in search of it, risks be damned. It's not much of a reveal to say that he finds other people, but after nine years of near solitude, he's somewhat forgotten how to relate to others and must relearn.
The book's emotional tone is somewhat uneven and Heller can't seem to make up his mind whether people should act like the brutal gangs in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, or show an urge to cooperate and connect. While I'm sure that people like the former would exist after a devastating population collapse, I think there's a middle path between a policy of blowing the head off every stranger one sees and one of being victimized. I imagine that many others would have an inclination to reconnect, rebuild, and repopulate, especially after nine years. So, I wasn't convinced about some of the human drama here, especially not by some characters we meet near the end, whose motives seemed nonsensical. And a significant relationship that develops between Higg and another character felt like it was missing some weight.
Still, I enjoyed this book and its meditations on aloneness of various kinds (I listened to a few chapters while XC skiing by myself in the woods, and it completely fit my mood). All in all, it's not hard to see The Dog Stars becoming one of those movies where there are long, dialogue-free stretches of simple action and landscape shots, accompanied only by swells of ambient music, and the weight of human solitude becomes felt.
This might be one of those novels that works better in audiobook. Higgs often expresses himself in abbreviated sentences that I suspect might give some people trouble with the text, but they worked well in spoken form, not unlike listening to a somewhat rambling friend.
At the risk of divulging too much, it could be argued that The Dog Stars is actually two stories that happen to be intertwined. I'll resist going into any detail, but suffice to say the author did a masterful job of handling the course of the plot and pace at which it plays out. (Mercifully, it means no maddening "to be continued" scenarios.)
Each character required their entire presence in the book to develop, which would make sense were it not for the nature of how the story plays out. It could be argued it served as a payoff in the end, but requires more patience than some readers may have. It tested mine at times.
The narrator did an excellent job overall especially handling the genders and ages. If I had one criticism, it would be the occasional gap in emotive quality expressed vocally as the main character (which is somewhat I ironic.) it never lacks when it would be demanded, but it is as if they seem to fall into an emotionally monotone narrative. It doesn't harm the storytelling, but it was perceptible enough to create what I would qualify as unnatural contrasts.
To be fair, the author does take liberties with rich, immersive descriptions which I found to be wholly satisfying. I felt connected, kindred even, with the main character and his thoughts, observations, and feelings. More so than any other story I've read or watched recently.
And that is a deeper debt than most writers can incur on a reader.
I loved this book. I haven't loved a book this much since listening to/reading Skippy Dies.
I was reading a New York Times book review last week about Peter Heller's latest novel, The Painter. I never read anything by this author. The reviewer said that they like his first novel The Dog Stars better. So I decided to give it a try.
Heller's writing style is very different. I think it's very artistic, beautifully written.
His characters are wonderful especially Hig the protagonist. I love his sensitive description of this man and his dog.
I don't like fishing but I love art. He made fishing feel like art.
This story is believable.
I am now reading/listening to The Painter, Peter Heller's second novel. I'm hoping to love it as much.
Being a Colorado native, I was a huge fan of the detailed descriptions of the land and use of actual geography! Thank you Mr. Heller. I'm excited to read your next book, sound like a good one too!
Post-apocolyptic stories are always good, and this is a new take on that genre. I enjoy the introspection the protagonist endures.
I am not pleased with how the narrator read this one. It makes me want to purchase, if not just peek in at the bookstore, to note if there are ellipsis' after every sentence. The book is read like a poem, with just-to-long-of-a-break between each sentence. It drove me nuts, but the storyline made up for that oddity. I do not think I will purchase another book that Mark Deakins has narrated, unless it is the book, not the narration.
Just a great story!
The main character, I could relate to him.
Meeting the woman
MAKE THIS INTO A MOVIE!!
The Dog Stars was the best book I have read in a long time. A story of loss, rebirth, and growth set in a post apocalyptic world. The author made me feel it all. The loss was painful, the rebirth was confusing and scary, and the growth was sweet and heart warming. I admired the hero who was vulnerable yet strong and innocent yet wise. I was sad to say goodbye to this character at the end of the story.
Stop listening to other people's opinions and form one of your own. That's sound advice, or not. It all depends on how literal you take it.
This book held my attention and put me right there at the airfield with the protagonist, though it did drag in a few spots and spawn a love interest that seemed to have no place in this kind of story other than to give this tale a bit of happy for those that need that sort of thing.
Other than that, it was a fun read.
One of those books better in audible format than written not because the text version would leave something to be desired but because the performance was so outstanding.
Another reader suggestion, and another hit. This one is abit erotic, abit violent, and a whole lot interesting. The story really doesn't go in any linear direction, but rather is a slice of post apocalpytic life, with a very complex narrator and associated characters.
I have been listening to quite a few of these types of "end times" books lately, and this one qualifies as "best of breed". Very definitely more of a psychological study, and a good one at that.
Needless to say, highly recommended.
The 1st person narrative and the almost poetic descriptions and flowing rythm. The narrator was perfect for this book. A unique experience, I'll recommend to everyone and read again.
Obviously, Big Hig -- THE story.
My complaint is it was too short because it was over too soon. I was continually impressed by the poetic descriptions and deep personal points of view. I have never read Peter Heller's books and didn't know what to expect - I was completely satisfied with the choice. Bravo and thank you!