Human Strengths and Frailties

The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

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It’s sometimes hard to separate the life of an author from his/her works; this was certainly true of James Joyce, Norman Mailer, and Ernest Hemingway, and Heller’s tale here is more or less of that tradition. It’s a dystopian tale of survival following a worldwide apocalypse. It’s not, however, as bleak as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, as Heller’s post-apocalyptic world tends toward human compassion and caring – as much so as about survival.

The first person protagonist is simply called Hig, a man who lost his wife and unborn child to a plague of human making, and he now lives with a survivalist named Bangley. The contrast between the two men couldn’t be more glaring: In this world, survival is paramount, and Bangley is more than up to the task. He’s loaded with guns, makes grenades and other armaments, and doesn’t blink an eye at killing interlopers – even children. Hig, on the other hand, can kill, but it’s far from an easy task. He’s a pilot who makes reconnaissance flights to help inform Bangley, and he raises a garden and cooks and keeps a pretty tidy place.

It’s hardly an aside, but halfway through the book, Hig leaves his Colorado airport haven in search of…what? He doesn’t know. He comes upon a father and his grown daughter in an idyllic valley, and after quite a hard time of convincing Pops that he comes in peace, he helps the pair leave this edenic place for…what? They aren’t sure.

This book is hardly the normal story of the apocalyptic genre; it’s almost a Biblical parable of the finer and baser human instincts, these forever coexisting. As well, it’s a replay of the Biblical exit from Eden, these remaining scraps of humanity thrown into the unknown and, hopefully, finding a certain peace that perhaps wasn’t present in the closeted world they left behind.

Heller’s writing here is excellent; there’s humor (albeit often  of the darker sort), and through Hig, Heller informs us of the hows and whys of human strengths and frailties.


My rating: 19 of 20 stars

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