The Dog Stars

(2012)
Dog Stars book cover

The short version: You like doing things outdoors--hiking, hunting, cross country skiing, etc.--and read up on those hobbies. You've had a close relationship with a pet. You don't mind reading about the end of the world as we know it. If that's you, you'll like this story.

The details: The world in Peter Heller's The Dog Stars is a lonely place. A virus has decimated the US population. In a small airport in Colorado, Hig, along with his dog Jasper and fellow resident Bangley, persists. He sleeps outdoors with Jasper snuggled on his leg. He flies his Cessna around on patrols once a day, playing through loudspeakers that anyone who comes near the airport will be killed. Sometimes, he helps Bangley enforce this death sentence. They don't trust any of the few other survivors who come near the airport.

Hig hunts and fishes. He flies to a nearby Mennonite village to visit and deliver Sprite, but keeps his distance--signs up warn that they have "the blood."

Three years ago, while flying, Hig picked up someone on the radio at the Grand Junction airport. Events in his life make him want to fly out now. Why, Bangley wants to know, what do you want?

That's the most important question of the book. It drives the narrative. Hig is alive almost without reason. He loves nature and poetry, he's not cold enough to be the sort of relentless killer Bangley is. He may not have survived to this point ten years after the virus hit if it weren't for Bangley. But what is he doing surviving? What does he want to continue living for? The story answers the question satisfactorily.

Heller's writing conveys his own love of nature. I confess to skimming his descriptions on occasion--I wanted to get back to the action. He also writes skillfully from the first person perspective of someone who's been mostly alone for a decade. Hig's thoughts wander and sometimes it's hard to tell if you're in the present or past, but it's not confusing for long. Sometimes it's hard to tell if Hig's thinking or speaking, which fits his state of mind perfectly.

If you enjoy nature writing and outdoor survival, or end of the world stories with a human slant like The Age of Miracles or The Road, you might see what you think of The Dog Stars.

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