The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars is my favorite kind of book. The kind randomly picked up or recommended that turns out to speak to who you are. I don’t know you or what you do, but if you like this book, then there’s at least a kinship of thought that I can salute. A knowing nod that says “Carry on and good luck.” This is the kind of book that when I get done and recommend to someone else, they look at me funny after a few chapters in. I think it worries my wife a little.

I’m an avid reader of survival stories, both real and fictional. Something about the call to overcome the difficulty that life presents – as if reading about it will make it so for me. I find it unsettling, even in the little parts of life, when I find people resigned to their troubles. I’m not saying I’m better, but there is something in me that says, “I want more. I will not stop. I will overcome this too.”

This story follows Hig – a survivor of the plague that has wiped the world free of all but a few people. He and his misanthropic friend Bangley work to protect their little corner of Colorado. Hig’s dog Jasper is his closest friend and constant companion. This threesome try to live and overcome the challenges of foraging for food, fending off other marauding survivors, and finding meaning in an apocalyptic world that has few answers.

Peter Heller expertly guides you through the inner currents of Hig’s psyche as he deals with the lot life has cast. You root for Hig as he grasps for a hold to control an unwieldy loneliness. His solitary plight is recognizable to many even in our connected age. You wish for him because it’s a wish for yourself. There is plenty of humor, wit, fear, and wisdom – and maybe something like finding love.

Earlier this year I read On The Beach by Nevil Shute. The world is ending and the story follows some normal people through the last oppressive days. While tinged in sorrow, the book is hopeful. The Dog Stars likewise is a search for hope. These are the stories I like best. “and hope does not disappoint…”

The haunting quality of this book reminds me of a movie I watched last year that I will recommend called The Wall. It is based on a German novel Die Wand (The Wall) by Marlen Haushofer.


and SPOILER: Dogs always die. It’s really just a fact to resign oneself to. One day my goal is to write an epic apocalyptic saga where in the end after all the struggles of body and soul, the people don’t make it, but the dog lives.


8.5 stars out of 10


photo: Thomas Shellberg

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