The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

12 Apr

I need to admit something. It’s a tough one to admit, being a Librarian and a Writer but, here goes nothing: I judge whether or not I want to read a book…sometimes by the cover. But usually it’s an instinct thing! Like, ooo that’s mysterious and lovely I should see what it’s about! And 9 times out of 10 it’s a book I want to read.

That’s a little how it was with “The Dog Stars” by Peter Heller. I saw it on the shelf one day and thought the title was poetic and I thought the cover was beautiful. Then I read what it was about and I KNEW I had to read it. Post-Apocalyptic? A dog (usually I hate this but I foolishly thought–no this time my heart WON’T be broken!)? Postmodern narrative techniques? I’m in.

I waited around awhile with this one because I really did have other books that HAD to be read first–I’m in like four book clubs. Finally, my friend decided she wanted to read it and since we both had it on our “To Read” list on Goodreads, she chose it as her April Book Club pick.

I read this book in 3 days. And that’s saying something. I work 40 hours a week. I sleep 8 hours a night. I read all 317 pages of this book in THREE DAYS. I loved it. Here’s why:

FIrst of all, it’s more than a post-apocalyptic book. Which is saying that, mostly, it’s not about the science stuff it’s about the human stuff. And before you Sci Fi readers get all up in my blog about this, I totally agree that Sci Fi is about the human stuff, too. It’s just that this is more literary than speculative science fiction and it’s less “in a world where there are 8 people and tons of techy stuff” and more “there is a guy and he’s trying to emotionally deal with the end of the world.”

And there it is: This is a book that deals with what it would be like, emotionally, to live after the end of the world.

So begins our journey with Hig. Big Hig. Not Higs. And Jasper his beloved dog, and Bangley his grumpy friend who does all the killing of intruders. Hig flies. Hig flies and Hig fishes and Hig hunts. And Hig misses his wife, Melissa. Hig is trying to figure out why he’s surviving when he’s not sure what he’s surviving for.

Heller is a wonderful writer. It’s hard to admit but he’s the kind of writer I wish I could be. Just the way he choose words makes me fall in love with language. Jealous.

“The Dog Stars” follows Hig as he navigates this new world in his plane. At one point he’s traveling out farther than usual (he just flies to protect the area in the prairie that he and Bangley have set up. One day Hig radios to the Airport tower and get this—someone answers. Three years later and Hig is feeling lonelier and sadder than ever so he decides to leave Bangley behind and fly out past his Point of No Return (When his gas he brings with him won’t bring him back unless he fills up) and find these people. And what does Hig find? A reason to live.

This isn’t a sentimental novel at all but it is a novel that grapples with what it means to grieve and what it means to grieve and move on. As someone whose Mother died just a few months ago this novel hits home big time. It’s not the same as being a widow or widower but I get it when Hig talks about loss and how it’s just sort of ALWAYS THERE.

But Heller doesn’t want us to focus on the loss. Heller makes us fall in love with the world. The fish, the deer, the plants, the stars–Heller shows us why we all need to live in Colorado and camp every weekend in the summer. Heller offers us the flip side of the apocalypse: the beauty of a world without humans. Do yourself a favor and go to a campground, sit around the fire, and read this book. And then enjoy the stars and name some new constellations for yourself.

Some quotes I enjoyed:

I once had a book on the stars but now I don’t. My memory serves but not stellar ha. So I made up constellations. I made a Bear and a Goat but maybe not where they are supposed to be.  –pg. 11

They used to say all FAA rules resulted from a real accident. So the .o32 mil wire is maybe a kind of memorial to some pilot. Maybe his family too. — pg 15

They bred dogs for everything else, even for diving for fish, why didn’t they breed them to live longer, to live as long as a man? — pg 25

So I wonder what it is this need to tell. / To animate somehow the deathly stillness of the profoundest beauty . Breathe life in the telling. –pg 52

There is a pain you can’t think your way out of. You can’t talk it away. If there were someone to talk to. You can walk. One foot the other foot. Breathe in breathe out. — pg. 114

Grief is an element. It has its own cycle like the carbon cycle, the nitrogen. It never diminishes not ever. It passes in and out of everything. — pg 115

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