Just like in Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, post-apocalyptic novel The Road, first-time novelist Peter Heller has created a heartbreakingly moving love story with The Dog Stars, one of this year’s greatest literary surprises. But unlike The Road, in which the love story is between a father and son, the passion play in The Dog Stars is between a man and nature. And inside that love affair, Heller seems to be signaling a severe warning of the dangers of global climate change and the terrible toll it has already taken on our planet.
In The Dog Stars, a virus has spread across the globe, devastating humanity and much of nature and only leaving a few scattered survivors in its wake. One of these survivors is the book’s narrator, a pilot named Hig, who has taken up residence with a gun-loving maniac who seems to enjoy killing intruders.
Together, the two men team up against marauders who may be infected with the killer virus. Hig, who tells the story in a fragmented dialogue with himself that is — at times — gorgeously poetic, longs for more companionship. At one point, Hig thinks he hears a transmission from another group of “friendly” survivors during a surveillance mission in his 1956 Cesna.
The real drama begins when Hig’s dog and best friend Jasper dies and Hig goes in search of this mystery clan. What he finds is not what he expects and although his journey reconnects him with the love he has so badly been missing, it also threatens his very existence.
Throughout The Dog Stars, Hig, an avid fisherman, speaks of the loss of so much, so quickly. (“If I ever woke up crying in the middle of a dream, and I’m not saying I did, it’s because the trout are gone every one.”)
Heller’s novel is a poetic and stellar story of what can happen to men and women when their world begins to die. It’s an ode to what we’ve lost so far, and how we risk losing everything.