Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Recently I picked up the novel THE DOG STARS by Peter Heller. I almost passed on it for several personal reasons, but opted to get it and give it a shot.

I'm glad I did because the novel is pretty good. I don't think it's a great novel or a classic, but it was a lot of fun.

It's the story of a couple of survivors of an apocalyptic event that has pretty much wiped out the human race. One reason that I liked the book so much is that the author got the causes right for what is eventually going to do us all in: the environmental degradation that our species has inflicted on Mother Earth. The protagonist of the story, Hig, ofter refers to the mass extinctions we caused, the climatic changes we brought, and the damage we did to the planet. The final straw is a nasty flu virus that sweeps across the globe killing almost everyone who contracts it. And then that disease is followed by another blood disorder that inflicts a lingering death on those who survived the flu.

Heller did the story perfectly, to my way of thinking. These are all things that we have done to the Earth. We have fouled the air, and polluted the water, and ruined the land. It's as if we're all waiting for the big pandemic to come and put end on us. I can buy his reasoning because it rings so beautifully true.

Another thing that I liked is that the author kept things simple. For two-thirds of the novel we are presented with the narrator, Hig; his dog, and his fellow survivor--a very scary and imposing monster named Bangley who would be a villain in any other context but the one in which we find this lonely trio.

They are settled in at an abandoned airstrip surrounded by vast homes previously owned by the pampered millionaires who built their McMansions close to the small airport for easy access to their private flying machines. And that's another nice twist to the tale: Hig is an amateur pilot of some skill, and he uses his small plane to make supply runs to various places and to scout for the marauders--people who have also survived the flu but who are anything but nice folk. That's why he needs Bangley, who is only too happy to kill anyone who comes anywhere near their final redoubt.

The story was written in a fairly unique, affected style that was okay. I could see it as a way to illustrate the narrator's almost mortally wounded psyche. It's different enough so that you notice it, but not so alien that it gets on your nerves. I think Heller did a good balancing act here and I rather liked the take on what he did. That style changes as the book progresses, as Hig changes and grows and seems to become...different as the story unfolds. Different, if not exactly normal.

I can give the book a high recommendation.

THE DOG STARS by Peter Heller.


Lawrence Roy Aiken said...

I've got a copy from the library. I started it, then got sidetracked. I'll try again. I concur with your observation on the slight pidgin-speak of Hig. Noticeable, but not too much of a distraction.

James Robert Smith said...

I can see why Heller used the style which some may find an affectation or just plain annoying. Of course I've heard the same said about Cormac McCarthy's style, and that doesn't hold up. Heller had a reason for it, and that reason is evident at the novel progresses.