Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars is this year's One Book One Broomfield choice--and it is a dark one. A flu pandemic has wiped out most of the population, and drought has destroyed much of the environment. Hig and Bangley live at the Erie, Colorado, airport. Hig hunts, gardens, and patrols the perimeter of their unofficial territory in his Cessna. Bangley is the muscle, killing anyone who intrudes in their territory regardless of age, gender, physical state, or intention--in fact, he doesn't take the time to ascertain their intentions. One of his mottoes is "Never negotiate." While Hig is clearly the more humane of the two--he tends to a group of Mennonites who survived the pandemic only to come down with a deadly disorder carried in the blood--but he has killed his share of intruders as well.

When Hig is flying his plane, he uses his radio as if someone were going to answer--and one day, he picks up bits of a transmission from Grand Junction. For three years, he thinks about trying to fly to Grand Junction--although he knows such a mission might end up with him stranded on the Western Slope--but only after does his beloved dog Jasper dies does he feel compelled to try to make another human connection.

On his journey, Hig not only makes new alliances and runs into new dangers, he also realizes that he cares deeply about Bangley and begins to worry about how he is doing back in Erie without help. Without revealing specifics of any more plot developments than I've already mentioned, I would simply say that the book ends on what to me seems like an ambiguously positive note.

Throughout the book, the reader is inside Hig's head--and Heller beautifully conveys how he thinks--combining complete sentences and elegiac reflections with sentence fragments and single words in rapid-fire responses to events around him. Things don't always make sense--just as our own thoughts often do not.  Dystopian novels aren't really my thing--and this book is certainly darker and more violent than other One Book one Broomfield choices--but I did appreciate Heller's writing and hits creation of a complex character who commands our sympathy as we recoil from some of his actions.

A listing of one Book One Broomfield events is available at

Favorite passages:
. . . smell is always the smell itself and memory, too, don't know why.

There is a pain you can't think your way out of. You can't talk it away. If there were someone to talk to. You can walk. One foot the other foot. Breathe in breathe out. Drink from the stream. Piss. Eat the venison strips. Leave his venison in the trail for the coyotes the jays. And. You can't metabolize the loss. It is in the cells of your face, your chest, behind the eyes, in the twists of your guy. Muscle sinew bone. It is all of you.

How you refill. Lying there. Something like happiness, just like water, pure and clear pouring in. So good you don't even welcome it, it runs through you in a bright stream, as if it has been there all along.


  1. It was tender and harsh, funny and sad, at times edge of your seat suspenseful. I found it as powerful as The Road; but without the bleakness.

    I loved it.

  2. I have not read The Road, though I have it on my Kindle. Do you recommend it, despite the bleakness?

  3. The writing in this novel is absolutely beautiful, and the story kept me turning pages because I was so involved with the main character as well as the plot. Loved it!
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