“I keep the Beast running. I keep the 100 low lead on tap, I foresee attacks. I am young enough, I am old enough. I used to love to fish for trout more than almost anything. My name is Hig, one name. Big Hig if you need another”.
I started The Dog Stars by Peter Heller and it gave me a headache. By page sixteen I was considering putting it down, permanently. Thirty pages in and I was in love, and it quickly became a favourite. I’ve read some great books this year, but, somehow, this one has managed to grip me like nothing else has, and I think I know why.
It is simple. The plot: Apocalypse (due to super flu), very few people left. Nine years on Hig is surviving and searching for other survivors. The plot itself is not dazzling or insightful. It’s Hig who makes the book worth the read. He’s a big burly man who will do what needs to be done. But he’s also a soft, sensitive and emotional man who is easily bought to tears and often stops to soak up nature. He experienced some brain damage at the end of the world, so his internal thoughts (which is how the book is written) are choppy, sometimes disjointed, but achingly human and, dare I say it, adorable. He is not quite alone though. The other character who really brings the book to life is a man called Bangley, who found Hig and now the two of them protect their post-apocalyptic area, or perimeter as they refer to it. Bangley is a gun nut, completely serious, and is driven by precision and survival. The conversations between the two of them a priceless.
The pacing is perfect. The dialogue is sharp and witty. Like Wool, it is atmospheric and crisp. There is so much about this book that I loved.
Here is a conversation early on between Hig and Bangley (which is all through Hig’s internal monologue):
I told him I used to build houses
Timber frame. Adobe. Odd custom stuff. Wrote a book too.
A book on building houses.
No. A little book. Poetry. Nobody read it.
Shit? He took a measured sip of Coke watching me as he tipped back the bottle, watching me as he set it back down on his thigh, kind of appraising me with a new appreciation, not readable good or bad. Adjusting the context.
Wrote for magazines now and then. Mostly about fishing, outdoor stuff.
The relief it swept his face like pushing off a cloud shadow. I almost laughed. You could see the gears: Phew, outdoor stuff, Hig is not a homo.
The book breaks all the rules too. No speech marks, sentences end abruptly et cetera. But it works flawlessly. I highly recommend this book. It’s not going to go down as a philosophical classic or a literary masterpiece, but for Heller’s first book, it’s a superb and highly creative read. Fun, explosive and dreamy.