The Dog Stars (Peter Heller)

It’s the end of the world as we know it and Hig has two friends – his dog, Jasper, and his neighbor, Bangley. Bangley owns an arsenal of weapons and enjoys using them. Hig has a plane. Together, they’ve managed to establish a perimeter that has kept both of them safe.

But Hig is uneasy within the constraints of this self-designated perimeter. While he understands the need for security and has a begrudging respect for Bangley, he needs breaks, whether they are fishing trips or flying to a nearby isolated Mennonite community to do what he can to aid them, albeit at a safe distance. They have, as they make clear to anyone who gets close, “the blood,” the cause of the collapse of society.

We learn that in the past when Hig was making a routine and what he thought was a useless request to an airport signal tower, he actually got something of a response, and the memory of that response has, by the time we meet him, haunted him for three years (though keeping track of time is difficult – sound familiar?).

This memory, combined with an event I don’t want to spoil, causes Hig to make a decision that changes his life.

Heller’s writing is superb, especially when he’s writing about nature and memory. Sometimes, though, his prose features a kind of shorthand. The shorthand is understandable, though; Hig has largely been talking to himself for a long time. There was only one point near the end where I couldn’t follow the action. Though it took only a few pages to catch up to it, it was a distraction because it was near the ending.

I do wonder about the actual ending, though. What is happening? Does it harken back to a suggestion made by an intruder earlier in the novel? Is it a sign of hope or still more destruction? I was okay with this ambiguity.

Though it may not be right for you right now, I do recommend this novel as well as another of his books, The Painter.

Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake.