This is the best book of the 20 or so that I read on vacation this year. What's more, it may be the best book I've read this year. What's even more, it just may be the best book I'll read in any year.
If you're reading my blog, you've probably already heard something about this book already--either because you're a friend or relative and you've already heard me talk about it, or because you're a book person and you've heard the buzz surrounding this novel. Which means what you probably know is that it's another post-apocalyptic vision of the world. What you probably don't know is that it is also a beautiful one.
This may be a debut novel, but Peter Heller is no stranger when it comes to writing prose. I don't think it's possible to produce a book like this one first time out of the gate. His background in travel and adventure writing becomes clear once you settle into Dog Stars, but it's the prose itself that sets this book apart: strong, experimental, truncated, but with a stream-of-consciousness aspect to it.
This is the story of Hig, a one percenter. Except in this case, he's one percent of the surviving population after a terrible flu has wiped out most of the population, and a mysterious blood disease has wiped out most of the flu survivors. He lives in a state of uneasy alliance with military-hardened Bangley, a "Survivor with a capital S," at a small, abandoned municipal airport. With Hig's Cessna and a dog named Jasper, they create a perimeter than can be defended and protected against the marauding, near-feral almost-humans who occasionally cross their paths.
It's an uneasy alliance, but a successful one, until one day Hig hears another voice on the Cessna's radio, broadcasting from a place well beyond his gas tank's point of no return, and it's that voice that starts to haunt Hig's waking and dreaming moments: are there other pockets of other people out there like him, people who have maintained their humanity, but more importantly, their hope?
I won't say more than that, other than the rest of the book is dedicated to that search, but also to the preservation of that hope. Reading this book is a singularly satisfying experience, and one that drew me in deeply and was slow to let me go. I laughed and I cried, and my pulse was pounding, often within the same chapter, and my husband tells me that all it took was watching me read the book to make him want to, too: he could hear my sniffles and my laughs, he observed all of my white-knuckled moments, my dog-eared pages, my deep sighs, and my blank looks when I stared, unseeing, out at the point where the ocean meets the horizon when the book became too much to take in.
Believe me when I say this book is a helluva read.
I'll conclude with a few excerpted passages and then the book trailer (sorry for the poor formatting--I don't know how to make it smaller). I read this book in ARC form, but it was published this week by Knopf. Seriously, will you please just read this?
"Bangley never drank because it was part of his Code. I'm not sure if he thought of himself as a soldier or even a warrior, but he was a Survivor with a capital S. All the other, what he had been in the rigors of his youth, I think he thought of as training for something more elemental and more pure. He had been waiting for the End all his life. If he drank before he didn't drink now he didn't do anything that wasn't aimed at surviving. I think if he somehow died of something that he didn't deem a legitimate Natural Cause, and if he had a moment of reflection before the dark, he would be less disappointed with his life being over than with losing the game. With not taking care of the details. With being outsmarted by death, or worse, some other holocaust hardened mendicant (70)."
"I could almost imagine that it was before, that Jasper and I were off somewhere on an extended sojourn and would come back one day soon, that all would come back to me, that we were not living in the wake of disaster. Had not lost everything but our lives....It caught me sometimes: that this was okay. Just this. That simple beauty was still bearable barely, and that if I lived moment to moment, garden to stove to the simple act of flying, I could have peace (67)."
"Jasper used to be able to jump up into the cockpit now he can't. In the fourth year we had an argument. i took out the front passenger seat for weight and cargo and put down a flannel sleeping bag with a pattern of a man shooting a pheasant over and over, his dog on three legs, pointing out in front...I carried him. Lay him on the pattern of the man and the dog.
You and me in another life I tell him....
He's getting old. I don't count the years. I don't multiply by seven.
They breed dogs for everything else, even diving for fish, why didn't they breed them to live longer, to live as long as a man (23, 24, 25)."
Hi Emily, It's Peter at Straw Hat in Anguilla. I want to read this book but want to buy it through an independent bookstore, not Amazon if I can help it. Please let me know the best way to do this from so far away.ReplyDelete
Hope all is well with you and Barry. Carnival has ben fun and the season remains busy! Sunny regards!
Peter, hi! Thanks for reading. I suspect that Coral Reef on Anguilla would be able to order a copy for you--they might even stock it, as I know they tend to stock titles that are part of the IndieNext list, which is a monthly selection of books put together by indie booksellers in the US.Delete
If you can't get it from Coral Reef, I'd be happy to have my store send you a copy. The author is actually coming to our store in late September, so it could even be a signed first edition, if you care about that sort of thing. I'll PM you on Facebook with more info!
I'm already on it. I have it on my next to buy list but I am experiencing a book budget shortage just at the moment (you know those darn kids need to wear shoes when they go back to school.) As soon as my budget frees up, consider it bought and read.ReplyDelete
Pity it's not like the old days when kids walked barefoot to school in the snow...then you could put shoe money toward books! (I'm kidding of course. Mostly)Delete
I have not seen this one before, it sounds like one of those books I have to read, I love ones that stay with you and really make you think.ReplyDelete
So many post-apocalyptics these days have to do with a heroine who must save the world and falls in love with someone and comes of age and kisses the boy and gets happy and saves the world and that kind of thing, but this looks so, delightfully different. I can't wait to check it out!ReplyDelete
yes, that's mostly the YA post-apocalyptic version of the world, but this is quite different. Lots of folks are comparing it to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but I think the narrative style sets it one notch above that, actually.Delete
I don't gravitate towards post-apocalypse books, but if it's really that great of a read then I've got to check it out! Putting it on my wishlist!ReplyDelete
I hope you're not disappointed, Melody!Delete
Blog walking here :)ReplyDelete
I really wanted to like this book but so far am not feeling the love. I usually enjoy these types of books. The addition of a dog was icing on the cake (or so I thought) I find the narrator's voice dry & monotone. I've only read the frist 50 pages but hope it picks up. Sorry, maybe it's me.ReplyDelete
Sorry that it's not to your liking, Anon. Funnily enough, the narrative style is one of the things I like most about it.ReplyDelete
I'm convinced! Top of the TBR ( or really TBBought) list it shall rise.ReplyDelete
Our beagle, Charlie, will be twelve in November and over the past month has just deteriated terribly in terms of being able to jump up on the bed and the couch. I have a feeling if I read this I will just cry and cry about the dog!ReplyDelete
This turned out to be one of my all-time favorites. I found it to be moving and profound, ironic and hopeful, and above all, spellbinding.ReplyDelete