Poetic post-apocalyptic novel, hints of grim with bright hints of dawn-- Peter Heller's "The Dog Stars"

The Dog Stars - Peter Heller

One of the good things about transatlantic flights is they give you the time to actually sit down and finish a book.  I'd downloaded this one a while ago on the strength of its reviews (and its comparisons to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, both in linguistic style, length, and overall tone) but for various reasons having nothing to do with the book and more to do with my attention span, it took a trip abroad to make me sit down and read it.


I loved it.  Dog Stars is both the same and very different, poetically hopeful versus moments of beauty as we all march on to our death-- it's radically different, that way, than The Road-- there is still that broken-up, post-apocalypse syntax (and there's a reason for that made clear not too long into the narrator's explanation for what's happened to him), that sense of all gone totally strange, and there is still that solo narrator whose primary perspective carries us through the whole thing.  


Like The Road, there's the issue of punctuation (or not) and the question of linear narrative and punctuation that traditional linear narrative snobs might get up in arms about, but those things aren't particular to only The Road, and I don't see them as bars, though to some people they're deal-breakers, and this is very much a post-modern novel in lots of ways.  


But there are also moments of stunning beauty, meditations on who we have been and become, deep raw emotion and gasping inhumanity, and finally, because this is the essence of the book, in and among the mundanities of survivalism that are scattered about: beautiful, poetic meditations of grief and what it means to not just subsist but try to find a reason to hope, to not be lonely, even when you're alone, to not let memory drown you-- and unlike The Road, the overall picture (SPOILERS for both books) isn't quite so grim, though there are horrifying and tear-inducing moments throughout.


There aren't any zombies.  Just the ravages of man's inhumanity to man, and being too clever for himself on the end, and having to re-learn the old ways (or die).  There's violence, and farming, and fishing, and flying, and learning new ways to think about time, and memory, and being (in some ways it also reminded me of Tinkers)-- and the book put me in a deeply philosophical frame of mind (and left me not so deeply & poetically gutted as McCarthy, either) once I was done.  It made me think that maybe, if I just had enough Storey's Country Wisdom manuals, then there would be lots of horrible things I would hate to have to learn doing, but there might be things I could learn, and maybe there might be hope that there would be others who might not shoot first, learn later.