First off, I have to say the soft-color, retro-quirky cover does not belie the contents inside. The Dog Stars is not a soft, quiet book, although it includes lots of introspection. But those quiet, lonesome stretches are punctuated by scenes so sudden and brutal, they could have turned Mother Teresa into a misanthrope.
Lonesome introspection and man’s inhumanity to man. Yep, we’re talking about a post-apocalyptic thriller, in the vein of The Road or The Walking Dead. The Dog Stars is set in a world where any random encounter with a stranger is less likely to begin with a polite wave ‘hi’ than with a slug between the eyes.
‘The Dog Stars’ is the story of Hig, who lives in a small, abandoned airport in Colorado with a gun-nut neighbor and a loyal dog with macabre tastes in cuisine. The bad news: A pandemic has wiped out a majority of the population (including Hig’s wife), and irreversible global warming is rendering the ecosystem barren. The good news–if you want to call it that–is that Hig and his survivalist ally have established a fairly safe and well-stocked HQ, with Hig securing the perimeter with his small plane.
Then tragedy strikes, and Hig begins to reevaluate his current choice. I won’t go any further into the story, but the plot thickens–and Hig is faced with some serious, life-changing choices.
I really enjoyed this book. One of the best things about it was its tone. Peter Heller writes in a sort of brusque/poetic style. Every sentence fragment is like a snippet of a haiku. Some passages break into that choppy, whitewater stream-of-consciousness style that is so cool in upmarket Western novels.
Heller opts for other literary quirks. Quotation marks are extinct in his post-apocalyptic world. Commas work above their pay grade, doubling for periods and semi-colons. And Hig hops back and forth between flashbacks as much as he hops between run-on and fragmented sentences. Heller is a natural at beautifully breaking the rules. And unlike some other authors, Heller’s jagged minimalism doesn’t create a distance between his characters and the reader. At just the right times, he intersperses moments of humor and human weakness that keep his damaged and violent characters likable. Also, in the latter half of the book, Heller’s style seems to settle as he concentrates on spooling out the plot and character interaction.
All in all, a very good book. I look forward to reading Heller’s next book, The Painter, soon.