The Dog Stars is a story about the post-apocalyptic demise of the human race. And not many of those stories appeal to me. When book critics and readers alike were gaga for Cormac McCarthey's The Road, I was wondering why. This book feels a lot like The Road, although I think Heller's work offers a more interesting story line. After a deadly virus has decimated the human population, Hig (our central character and narrator) finds himself alone in a dangerous world with only one companion to help him survive the occasional attacks by others hellbent on killing everyone and everything in sight. He's a pilot, a hunter, a fisherman. Oh and a wanna be poet. The books tracks his travels as he navigates this dangerous and unpleasant environment.
There are a lot of things I didn't like about this book. Let me mention a few:
This is bad on me. I certainly can't blame Heller for my dislike of the story. I just don't react well to stories chronicling the downfall of humanity. Good grief, I even had a problem with the Hunger Games books for their assertion that in the face of extreme adversity, humans tend toward evil, like kids killing other kids. Here the violence, and the suggestion that every other person is the enemy is unbelievable.
I'm likely to get skewered for this argument. But really, am I the only one who thinks this book is antiquated in its portrayal of women and their role in society. Let's start with the fact that almost no women appear in the book and if they do, they're sickly or in shorts and a sexy shirt, working in the garden, happy to cook dinner, and waiting for the man of their dreams. Most romance novels offer stronger, more assertive female character than The Dog Stars.
The book seems to suggest that women are just too frail to survive an apocalyptic environment as most of those remaining are men who are blood-thirsty power mongers out for domination. Sure there's a brief mention toward the end of the book that one group of marauders may have included women. But it didn't meet my standards of understanding modern women. Because I'm positive that when the apocalypse arrives, there are a whole lot of powerful, smart women who will definitely outlast me. This book would benefit from a bad-ass female character. And Cima, our damsel in distress protected aggressively by her ex-military father, isn't her.
The writing style:
Heller isn't a bad writer. But it's obvious that he fancies himself a poet. And certainly the writing style of this book with it's super short, staccato sentences, is in vogue right now and has a poetic feel. (Although can you really call them sentences when many of them only imply verbs or nouns?) Granted, I'm not an avid poetry reader so this hyper-stylized way of writing might just fall flat on my ears. But those moments in The Dog Stars when the writing strays from more traditional forms are often contradictory to the intent of the story.
The ridiculous lines:
Okay, this might not deserve its own category because really, I think it is a result of combining the last two categories. But there are some unbelievable lines in this book. Lines that had me rolling my eyes and snorting out loud. Here are just a few of my favorites.
- "First instinct was to climb down there and murder the f*%@^er and take his woman." And take his woman?!?
- "My name is Hig. I was born in the year of the rat. . . I am an Aquarius. My mother loved me. She really, really loved me." I can't decide who this channels more, Shirley MacLaine or Sally Fields.
- And my personal favorite, "Can you fall in love through a rifle scope? Damn!" I'm from Wyoming and that line still makes me roll my eyes.