Random House, 2012
Trade Paperback, 336 pages
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, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.
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.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a post-apocalyptic novel that takes place nine years after a pandemic flu virus has decimated mankind. Hig has survived, along with his dog, Jasper, and his neighbor Bangley, a gruff well-armed survivalist. They live at the small airport in Colorado where Hig kept his plane before civilization ended. Now he flies surveillance missions along their perimeter looking for any indication that he and Bangley should be expecting unwanted visitors.
Hig and Bangley cope with their situation quite differently. Bangley is a loner who almost delights in always being prepared and ready to kill any intruders. Hig would rather spend time with Jasper while flying, fishing, walking among the remaining trees in the forest, and hunting. One day Hig picks up a part of a transmission full of static that haunts his thoughts more and more. Are there other survivors out there and is some connection to other humans (beyond terse, laconic Bangley) possible? It takes a life shattering event to send Hig out on a trip to perhaps discover the person behind the radio transmission and maybe some reason to hope.
In The Dog Stars, Heller manages to write in captivating prose an inspired and poetic end-of-the-world novel. Hig may not quite be the wary cut-throat survivalist that he should be to survive, but he is still able to at least try to connect with his emotions while making his way through this changed world. And the world has changed. It wasn't complete annihilation of a nuclear strike - nature is intact - but global warming is still marching onward so what the flu (and blood disease) didn't do the changing environment might finish.
Along with the exceptional writing, Heller manages to make Hig a very sympathetic and appealing character. He also takes the natural world around Hig and does a great job describing it and how Hig relates to it. For the bleak subject matter, this novel doesn't leave you with a hopeless feeling.
The actual writing style is nontraditional (no quotation marks and fragmented thoughts, for example), so if you think that would bother you, please read the excerpt linked below.
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best