The end of the world is near in Peter Heller's “The Dog Stars” (Knopf, $24.95), but something keeps a few survivors from giving up.
Hig is a survivor. He and his dog Jasper live in a hangar at an abandoned airport in western Colorado. Sometimes they fish in the mountains where the air is cooler and the trees are alive. There are no trout in the streams, but it is a change of scenery.
Their only neighbor, Bangley, lives in a house abandoned 10 years earlier when a flu-like malady wiped out most of the population of their world.
Hig fuels his 1956 Cessna from the airport's pumps. He flies produce from his garden to “the families,” a group of people with a contagious blood disease. Bangley has an arsenal in his fortified house and spends his time guarding against strangers who show up. Hig often feels guilty when he helps Bangley fight off invaders.
When Hig's life suddenly changes, he goes to explore another part of the state. He flies over dead cities, forests and farmland. Then he finds a hidden canyon inhabited by an old man, who shoots the windows out of the Cessna, forcing Hig to land. Hig talks his way into the area and meets the man and his daughter. Six weeks later, all three decide they must leave because the only source of water is drying up.
This story sounds dreary, and it is. It's also suspenseful, full of action and hope, and a love story. Heller's writing style is almost poetic but is a bit difficult initially. Much of it is in phrases, not sentences. Then you realize it's Hig talking to himself, recording his solitary thoughts.
The book is one you'll not soon forget.
— Kay Dyer