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The Dog Stars (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – May 7, 2013
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2012: Adventure writer Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars is a first novel set in Colorado after a superflu has culled most of humanity. A man named Hig lives in a former airport community—McMansions built along the edge of a runway—which he shares with his 1956 Cessna, his dog, and a slightly untrustworthy survivalist. He spends his days flying the perimeter, looking out for intruders and thinking about the things he’s lost—his deceased wife, the nearly extinct trout he loved to fish. When a distant beacon sparks in him the realization that something better might be out there, it’s only a matter of time before he goes searching. Poetic, thoughtful, transformative, this novel is a rare combination of the literary and highly readable. --Chris Schluep
Amazon Exclusive: Author Peter Heller on the Star of The Dog Stars
Our Hero, Hig, lives at a little country airstrip which he shares with his beloved blue heeler Jasper, and a mean gun nut named Bangley. It's nine years after a super-flu has killed 99.7% of the people on the planet. Hig sleeps out under the open sky at night with Jasper. He does it because he loves to see the stars, and because it's safer: if marauders come he won't be trapped in one of the nearby houses.
He used to have a book of the stars, but now he doesn't, so when he's lying out at night he makes up constellations. Mostly they are animals, and he makes one for his best friend Jasper. The Dog Stars. It's Hig's way of reinventing the lost world, and keeping in touch with the things he loves.
Jasper, to me, is the star of the book. He is fiercely loyal, and he gives Hig something to live for when there is not much else to hold on to.
A San Francisco Chronicle and Atlantic Monthly Best Book of the Year
“Extraordinary. . . . One of those books that makes you happy for literature.” —Junot Díaz, The Wall Street Journal
“This end-of-the-world novel [is] more like a rapturous beginning. . . . Remarkable.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“For all those who thought Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the last word on the post-apocalyptic world—think again. . . . Make time and space for this savage, tender, brilliant book.” —Glen Duncan, author of The Last Werewolf
“Heart-wrenching and richly written. . . . The Dog Stars is a love story, but not just in the typical sense. It’s an ode to friendship between two men, a story of the strong bond between a human and a dog, and a reminder of what is worth living for.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A dreamy, postapocalyptic love letter to things of beauty, big and small.” –Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl
"Heartbreaking" —The Seattle Times
“A brilliant success.” —The New Yorker
“Beautifully written and morally challenging” –The Atlantic Monthly
“A book that rests easily on shelves with Dean Koontz, Jack London or Hemingway." —The Missourian
"Dark, poetic, and funny." —Jennifer Reese, NPR
“Terrific. . . . Recalling the bleakness of Cormac McCarthy and the trout-praising beauty of David James Duncan, The Dog Stars makes a compelling case that the wild world will survive the apocalypse just fine; it’s the humans who will have the heavy lifting.” —Outside
“A post-apocalyptic adventure novel with the soul of haiku.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“An elegy for a lost world turns suddenly into a paean to new possibilities. In The Dog Stars, Peter Heller serves up an insightful account of physical, mental, and spiritual survival unfolded in dramatic and often lyrical prose.” —The Boston Globe
“Take the sensibility of Hemingway. Or James Dickey. Place it in a world where a flu mutation has wiped out ninety-nine percent of the population. Add in a heartbroken man with a fishing rod, some guns, a small plane. Don’t forget the dog. Now imagine this man retains more hope than might be wise in such a battered and brutal time. More trust. More hunger for love—more capacity for it, too. That’s what Peter Heller has given us in his beautifully written first novel.” —Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan and The Ruins
“With its evocative descriptions of hunting, fishing, and flying, [The Dog Stars], perhaps the world’s most poetic survival guide, reads as if Billy Collins had novelized one of George Romero’s zombie flicks.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
“The Dog Stars can feel less like a 21st-century apocalypse and more like a 19th-century frontier narrative (albeit one in which many, many species have become extinct). There are echoes of Grizzly Adams or Jeremiah Johnson in scenes where Heller lingers on the details of how the water in a flowing stream changes color as the sun moves across the sky.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Full of action and hope…. One you’ll not soon forget.” — The Oklahoman
“A heavenly book, a stellar achievement by a debut novelist that manages to combine sparkling prose with truly memorable, shining, characters.” —The New York Journal of Books
“Gruff, tormented and inspirational, Heller has the astonishing ability to make you laugh, cringe and feel ridiculously vulnerable throughout the novel that will have you rereading certain passages with a hard lump in the pit of your stomach. One of the most powerful reads in years.” —Playboy
“The Dog Stars is a wholly compelling and deeply engaging debut.” —Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
“Beautiful, haunting and hopeful. . . . Makes your breath catch and your heart ache.” —Aspen Daily News
“At times funny, at times thrilling, at times simply heartbreaking and always rich with a love of nature, The Dog Stars finds a peculiar poetry in deciding that there’s really no such thing as the end of the world—just a series of decisions about how we live in whatever world we’ve got.” —Salt Lake City Weekly
“What separates Heller’s book from other End of Days stories is that it doesn’t rely on the thematic fail-safes to tell the story—The Dog Stars is quite simply the story of what it’s like to be alonet.” —The Stranger
“Proves a truth we know from our everyday nonfictional lives: Even when it seems like all the humans in the world are only out for themselves, there are always those few who prove you absolutely wrong—in the most surprising of ways.” —Oprah.com
“Heller has created a heartbreakingly moving love story. . . . It’s an ode to what we’ve lost so far, and how we risk losing everything.” —Cincinnati City Beat
“A stunning, hope-riddled end-of-the-world story. . . . Bound to become a classic.” —Flavorwire
“Heller’s writing gives you a heartbreaking jolt, like a sudden wakening from a dream.” —The Seattle Times
“Heller is a masterful storyteller and The Dog Stars is a beautiful tribute to the resilience of nature and the relentless human drive to find meaning and deep connections with life and the living.” —Julianna Baggott, author of Pure
“Terrific . . . With echoes of Moby Dick, The Dog Stars . . . brings Melville’s broad, contemplative exploration of good and evil to his story.” —Shelf Awareness
“Heller’s surprising and irresistible blend of suspense, romance, social insight, and humor creates a cunning form of cognitive dissonance neatly pegged by Hig as an ‘apocalyptic parody of Norman Rockwell’—a novel, that is, of spiky pleasure and signal resonance.” —Booklist (starred)
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Top Customer Reviews
When I read this book, I was reminded of Tolstoy's line - "There is nothing great where truth, simplicity, and beauty are not present." This book hits all three, although they come in atypical and, at times, devastating forms. There are passages in this book that are more beautiful, more achingly honest, about true loss than almost anything else I have read, and they are all the more powerful because of the poetic simplicity of the prose, the sparing and economical word choice - the feeling you get that if anything else was said, it would not only be nonessential or redundant, it could finally crush the spirit beyond the possibility of recovery.
This book reminds you that the end of the world is not only a subjective expression but a completely subjective feeling; for some, the end is not real at all, for some the end happens nearly immediately, and for a few, the end doesn't happen until the person they are is gone and the reason for continuing to struggle to live is merely due to "curiosity." A chilling reason, but perhaps accurate. The mundane everyday drudgery is punctuated by sudden moments of pure horror, disgust, and savagery. During the span of one evening reading this book, I nearly vomited and then later cried harder than I would like to admit.
Some have complained about the clipped, stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling, but I think that is apropos for this tale. After all, when the end comes for the world and pretty much everyone is gone, what else would you have to hear, or listen to, than your own thoughts?
If all civilization came to a shuddering stop, what would enable the survivors to survive long-term? Would it be the homicidal ape that we are, the ability to kill and trap resources the most effectively, or would it be the better angels of our nature? Would it be the willingness to drop the gun, drop the sword, even if we had every reason to shoot or stab? What would really keep us alive? Perhaps more important, what would make us want to keep living?
I hope you have as rewarding an experience reading this book as I did. It will crush you, it will disturb you, but it will also lift you up- maybe you will even soar.
The to like aspects include the unfolding story of Hig, his dog Jasper, and their odd companion Bangley, who lives by the maxim "shoot first" with no need to ask questions later. It's just that kind of a world, where every surviving Human is a threat to every other.
Hig is a pilot, who flies recon out of their derelict residential airport in an old Cessna, Jasper sitting second seat. When outsiders wander inside the "perimeter," it is usually Hig who spots them, and Bangley who does the wet work. Hig eventually flies off to hunt down a radio call he's heard, and finds more than he expected he would.
The not to like aspects of the book include its sort of "stream of consciousness" first person narrative, which at times is a bit confusing; and the slow pace of the first 125 pages or so.
The story revolves around Hig's efforts to survive in a hostile world, and his battle to preserve something of himself from the "before." In the end, it's about how the remnants of Humanity might try and stitch back together the fabric of social existence after it has been shredded. If there is a moral to the story, it must be that the Human spirit, and the Human heart, do not die easily. If there is a lesson to the story, it is that surviving the apocalypse is easier if you happen to know a former special ops soldier or two.
I enjoyed the book. It's not the sort that will grip you from the first paragraph on, but it will enmesh you in Hig's thoughts and feelings as it moves along, especially after he leaves on his quest. Most fans of "doomsday" or "post-apocalypse" stories will probably enjoy it as well.
But Hig has heard a distant radio signal that he is determined to track down and investigate ( a nice lift from Nevil Shute's "On The Beach"). He prepares his plane for the flight and leaves. Along the way, he happens upon a remote Eden-like enclave, occupied only by a beautiful woman and her salty, capable Dad. Together, they enjoy some near normalcy for a while. It's all very charming, but duty calls and Hig must fly and seek out the signal. What's not to like?
Heller's writing style is snappy and cool and there are some beautiful passages. It will be some time before I read another book in this genre, but I'm glad I read this one.