Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper. But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.
(Story synopsis from book cover.)
I came across The Dog Stars in a roundabout way…my husband had picked me up a copy from the airport while he was on a business trip. I had originally begun reading this book before I went to bed one night, but then I set it to the side and didn’t return to it for a little while. The reason is not because it is a bad book, but because Heller uses a unique way of writing the story. (This is the first novel I’ve read by this author.) This is the type of book that you have to be able to set time aside simply to read. Because of the type of writing that Heller uses, you have to be able to concentrate on what you are reading. Heller does not use quotation marks when there is dialogue, so sometimes it is necessary to reread a passage to see if Hig (our main character) is having a conversation with himself (which happens to all of us), or if he is actually talking to one of the few people he encounters in the novel.
While The Dog Stars is a book about a post-apocalyptic disease that devastates the world, it is also very much a book about a man trying to find himself and his purpose in a world that he no longer recognizes. There are a few things from his “past-life” that he keeps with him, but many times he is unsure how to function in the “after” of the disease. The rules have changed for everyone, but Hig sometimes has a hard time adapting to these new rules. Many times it is Hig’s dog Jasper who keeps him grounded and aware of their new situation, and other times it is Hig’s cantankerous, but well-prepared neighbor, Bangley, that keeps Hig’s thinking focused on the now.
Once I got started on The Dog Stars again (when I wasn’t tired), I found myself intrigued by the story and scenario that Heller created in his novel. I must admit that post-apocalyptic stories aren’t usually “my thing,” but I was willing to give it a go. I found myself drawn to the inner turmoil that Hig faced throughout the book. There are many times that he could have given up, but didn’t and found a way/a reason to keep going despite what he faced ahead. (I don’t give too much away, because then I would be spoiling the story.)
Once the reader is able to adapt to Heller’s writing style (it is different from anything I’ve read before), then one is able to appreciate the situation Hig finds himself in. The Dog Stars begs the question of the reader, “How would you survive in this world?” The idea of adaptation to a world so completely different from our own is not an easy task as we see with Hig remembering how things used to be and how that can be a dangerous thing in the new world. But not only does the reader question if they would be able to survive, but would they be able to keep going? Losing everything you knew, losing everyone that you loved…would you have the strength?