The world has changed in Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. A pandemic has infected millions. Many have not survived, and those that have are shunned and avoided. The novel begins nine years after the outbreak, and centers around pilot Hig and his aging dog, Jasper. Hig and Jasper live at an abandoned airport with survivalist and gun-nut Bangley. Hig has refurbished a 1956 Cessna, which he takes on short flights in the area. He has to choose his paths with care. If he flies too far, he could run out of fuel. Airports in the area can be dangerous places. Wandering groups of marauders appear that would kill you as soon as look at you. Airport runways have fallen into ruin and there is a good chance Hig would not be able to land. He could find himself too far from home, and not able to find the fuel he needs to get back. He finds himself desperately lonely. He is reminded of his wife Melissa who died during the pandemic. Bangley is not much for conversation. Occasionally, Hig flies to deliver supplies to a group of Mennonites who have been infected with the blood disease, but he can never get too close with them. Suddenly, a tragic event happens that will change Hig’s perceptions and force him to make a decision that will alter the course of his life.
The Dog Stars is primarily a character study of a man who has lost hope. It is a heartbreaking work, and the reader gets the sense of intense loneliness that Hig is feeling, trapped in this new world, fighting each day for survival. Written in short passages and often single sentences, the story has a distinct style that is very readable and ultimately compelling. This is a novel to be savored, and the reader will remember Hig long after they have finished the final page.