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This review is from: The Dog Stars (Hardcover)
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If you liked Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, you're going to like Peter Heller's THE DOG STARS. If you did not like THE ROAD, you're STILL going to like THE DOG STARS.
Yes, Heller's book is reminiscent of McCarthy's, but you don't have to be a dystopia devotee to appreciate it. Why? Heller is a writer's writer with a talent for deft descriptions, for one, and his dystopian yin hasn't forgotten its utopian yang. Meaning: Hope hasn't escaped the box for good, in the case of this rewarding book.
There's something here for everyone. At times, it is one creepy and violent thriller. But at other times, like when protagonist Hig takes to the mountain streams with his faithful dog, Jasper, it reads like Hemingway. It's almost as if a public service announcer says, "We interrupt this dystopian nightmare to treat you to a Big Two-Hearted River moment." And then: "Now back to our regularly-scheduled apocalyptic mess." Then there is the turn the novel takes in its second half -- the addition of a romantic element, like an echo from Hig's burnt past. All this, yet Heller keeps it together and makes it fit.
To start, we have Hig and his ruthless partner-in-survival, the appropriately-named Bruce Bangley. With his old Cessna, Hig is able to tour the perimeter of the extensive grounds he, Bangley, and Jasper protect from survivors of (what else?) a killer flu pandemic. And what a pair. Where Bangley seems to kill with joy, Hig appears to kill under duress and despite his aversion to it. Both killers, though. By necessity. Only one has a poet's conscience.
Stylistically, the book has its quirks, too. You won't find any quotation marks, for one. Victims of the pandemic, I guess. And fragments (sentences, I'm talking) are as common as the frayed leftovers of civilization featured in the book. Still, the fragmented delivery fits Hig's personality nicely and gives Heller a chance to show his talents in creating voice.
The greatest treat of all, though, is the writing. Some of Heller's descriptions give you pause, they're so poetic. More than once, I reread a passage and said, "Nice. Very nice." Here's an excerpt that might give you a flavor:
"We were on the edge of a small basin above treeline and in the bottom were patches of old snow and a small lake recently cleared of ice... A lake like a gem set in a bezel of tufted tundra and rough scree, the water green with the luminous unapologetic green of a semiprecious stone but textured with the wind. Then it wasn't. The surface stilled and glassed off, polishing itself in an instant, the water reflecting the dark clouds that massed and poured against the ridges like something molten and it was suddenly very cold and the snowflakes began to touch the surface. Ringless, silent, vanishing. I let go the sled's bridle. I was fifty yards from the water. The snow heavier. A white scrim that darkened the air, that hastened the dusk the way a fire deepens the night. I stood transfixed. Too cold for bare hands but my hands were bare. The flakes struck in my eyelashes. They fell on my sleeves. Huge. Flowers and stars. They fell onto each other, held their shapes, became small piles of perfect asterisks and blooms tumbled together in their discrete geometries like children's blocks."
I don't know about you, but with writing like that, I don't even CARE if all Hades is breaking loose around the characters. At least they stop and smell the snowflakes now and again....
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Initial post: May 15, 2014 1:18:36 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 15, 2014 1:19:40 PM PDT
Joan Dunn says:
This isn't the type of book I normally read, but a friend gave it to me & I promised to read it. I enjoyed it much to my surprise! I would love to find an old college English prof who gave anybody who wrote with fragments an automatic "D" on the paper. I turned in a paper with this grammar flaw, got the "D" and told I would amount to nothing. :-) Wonder what he would say about this book!? There is life after "fragments"! It works well in this novel.
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