REVIEW: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, Genre: Fiction/ Post-Apocalyptic, Pages: 320, Reading Level: Easy

Book Description:

“A riveting, powerful novel about a pilot living in a world filled with loss- and what he is willing to risk to rediscover, against all odds, connection, love, and grace.

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.”

Eh.

I know I am in the minority here, but this book was just okay.

I love apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction and The Dog Stars got really good reviews. I just couldn’t get into it.

First I’ll comment on the style. If you are a stickler for correct punctuation, this book may not be for you. Peter Heller seems to have taken a liking to José Saramago’s Blindness. Besides the fact that dialogue does not include quotes, you’ll find things like:

Nine years is pretty fucking long:
To live with Bangley’s bullshit.
To remember the ad hoc flu ward and.
To miss my wife after.
To think about fishing and not go.
Other stuff. p22

By the way, the entire book is like this. I am not a big fan but it doesn’t bother me. Having said that, I think authors should use caution when utilizing this style because something as simple as a comma, can change the meaning of a sentence. While the following is insignificant, it illustrates how this happens:

There is no one to tell this to and yet it seems very important to get this right. The reality and what it is like to escape it. That even now, it is sometimes too beautiful to bear. p38

The last sentence emphasizes the timing. Even now, the reality and what it is like to escape it is sometimes too beautiful to bear. In spite of the apocalyptic setting, the reality and what it is like to escape it is sometimes too beautiful to bear.

But remember, Heller doesn’t use punctuation consistently, so maybe there is a missing comma after ‘that’:

That, even now, it is sometimes too beautiful to bear.

This would place the emphasis on ‘the reality and what it is like to escape it.’ Take out ‘even now’ and read it again. A comma placed after ‘that’ would clarify the emphasis. Documenting reality and what it is like to escape it is important. Granted this particular distinction is quite insignificant, but it is a good example of how a comma can make a difference. In a different paragraph or sentence, it may make a huge difference in meaning. This is why I think using this style of writing is very tricky. Not everyone can be a Saramago.

Speaking of… unique… writing styles, who does the following sound like?

I banked around and came down with the gold sun straight in my eyes, banging louder, now kind of alarming like it would suck to throw a bearing and practically blind with the sun, using the left pavement edge as a guide, and a hundred feet after I touched down still tearing ass, maybe seventy indicated, WHOMP, and had it been the nose gear and not the left main the Beast, and me too, we would be toast. p23

The sentence is not pages long and this doesn’t happen frequently, but this is what Gabriel García Márquez does in One Hundred Years of Solitude. He goes on and on with no break. I don’t even know what to call the above. Is it a run on sentence? I can see one part that may qualify as a run on sentence. Also, there is one part that screams for a comma. Every time I read this, I want to scream “Comma comma comma!”

Maybe if I had read some of the reviews first, those that mention the writing style, I would have been prepared. I would have entered this with a completely different mindset and consequently enjoyed the book more.

Finally, there are lengthy descriptions of things like hunting or fishing. I’m not talking anywhere near Levin and farming in Anna Karenina long, but they were long enough to lose my interest.

The potential in The Dog Stars was huge. Was it convenient that Higs and Bangley had what would be considered comforts in a post-apocalyptic world? Maybe. But the story isn’t really about just survival. It’s about when simply surviving isn’t enough. That’s a great story. Unfortunately, for me, it got lost.

There is also a really good sex scene. That’s always a plus.

I had hoped for more. I am not totally against introspection if it is done well and keeps my interest. I am not an all explosions and car races kind of gal. However, this one fell a little short for me. I enjoyed about half of the book; that’s why I gave The Dog Stars three stars as well as a recommendation to use your best judgment.

Reviewed by Christina
November 1, 2013

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