“When will I be home? I don’t know. In the mountains, in the rainy night, the Autumn lake is flooded. Someday we will be back together again. We will sit in the candlelight by the West window. And I will tell you how I remembered you tonight on the stormy mountain.” – When Will I Be Home? By Li Shang-Yin (813?-858)
The Dog Stars
By Peter Heller
Read by Mark Deakins
Knopf | Random House Audio
Tomorrow, 99.7% of the world will die from a super-flu. Nine years later, we find pilot, and narrator, Hig, his dog Jasper, and his partner Bangley making the most of the new world at a small airport turned fortress fighting off marauders and would-be invaders living in a world where his morals no longer seem compatible. At least if he wants to live. Which is in doubt.
Hig survived the death of everything he knew and everyone he loved including the haunting death of his pregnant wife. Alone as he considers himself, Bangley is a dangerous psychotic who he can’t trust, he thinks, with only his dog Jasper he flies an old Cesna around the perimeter of the airport and makes supply runs to a group on Mennonites affected by the blood flu.
A couple years ago he heard a transmission on the radio from Grand Junction. It was garbled and he lost most of what was said, but he heard it. Could there be people out there? Society? Restlessness and the fact that he is far away from his peace-loving element drive him to consider the unthinkable: leaving the airfield. And so he goes. And nothing will be the same. Again.
Heller’s debut novel will haunt you as it did me. It is at once lyrical, poetic, revolting and wistful. The author’s affinity for nature is evident by the detailed and loving way that he describes it. The author tells the story through the perspective of Hig and uses language to build back-story in ways that are nearly always lacking in a post-apocalyptic story. There is a difference between an action packed, post-apocalyptic popcorn novel and literature. This is literature. Just so happens the world has gone to rot. Consider this quote as an example of how the author uses Hig’s musings to build a world far superior to most of his contemporaries: “Slide by slide. Picture by picture. He was aggregating memory like a wall against extinction. And the little boxes of slides were his bricks.” That was about a family member completely incidental to the story.
Every part of the story is filled with these off the cuff comments building something truly beautiful. An amazing debut novel. One that I highly recommend.
A note about the audio version: Deakins doesn’t just read the book, but produces a story. His deliberately slow, punctuated reading fits perfectly with the author’s text and forces the reader to pause and enjoy the lyric, the vista, the beauty. At first frustration built; I wanted to go faster. But then I realized that the author was right. This story takes time and you can’t force your way through it. You have to take the time to take in the view.
Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.
This audio book was provided by the publisher, ChristianAudio.com, as a review copy.