Book Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

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By Fran Hoepfner. Let's face it, we're obsessed with the end of the world. Novel after novel depicts various types of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios, each as bleak and violent as the next. It's not a particularly fresh trope, and yet, The Dog Stars, a novel by Peter Heller puts a uniquely beautiful and poignant spin on the end of the world.

The Dog Stars tells the story of a man named Hig approximately 9 years after a deadly flu virus wiped out the majority of the population. He lives in an airplane hangar with a gun-toting grump named Bangley and his old dog, Jasper. The life they lead is solitary and simple. Hig finds solace in hiking, fishing, and flying. He's relatively non-violent, though the threat of post-apocalyptic raids is a looming threat. After years and years of routine and loneliness, he decides to pursue a radio call he heard a long time again from a place miles and miles away.

The reason why The Dog Stars works so well is that it doesn't focus on the misery of the apocalypse. It is dark, certainly, and violent, certainly, but it's not without hope. That's not to say it's sentimental or heartwarming, but it represents humans as very human. They don't turn into doomsday monsters. They don't eat each other. They act out of violence when they're afraid. They still have the capacity for love, and ultimately what they want is to find solace in one another. The Dog Stars takes both Hig and the reader on a journey into an unknown world that is just as beautiful and sad as it is frightening. It's about learning and growing, even when there's almost nothing left.