Kerry Nietz's Reviews > The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
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Jul 07, 12

Read in July, 2012

To start with, the writing in “The Dog Stars” is experimental. It is written in first person past tense, but the sentence structure is often broken and disjointed. Thoughts will sometimes stop without logical completion. There are also no quotation marks around dialog sentences. (The only other book I can compare the style to is “The Sound and the Fury” by Faulkner.) The style is partially explained as being because the protagonist had a disease that may have damaged his brain. I have nothing against experimental writing; I’ve done a bit of it as an author myself. But to be honest, even though I frequently write in first person, this book took me awhile to adjust to. It is just that different. So be warned.

The jacket cover describes the book as “spine-tingling”. I’m not sure to what extent that is true. The first third of the book moves at a fairly slow pace. The context was interesting enough to me, not being either a pilot or a hunter/camper/fisherman, that I kept going just to enjoy, at least, the glimpse into those worlds. The action speeds up as the novel progresses, of course, but I don’t think it ever reached the point of “spine-tingling”.

Aside from writing style, and the protagonist bent for the outdoors, there wasn’t a terrible lot that was original here, either. Yes, at times the writing was poetic. But the text also essentially used the f-word as punctuation. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve read a sci-fi novel, or even a post-apocalyptic novel, that used profanity so liberally. Again, maybe that’s the protagonist’s brain damage, but my gut feeling is it the writer trying to make the work feel “gritty” and “real.” (I read an Advance Reader’s Edition so maybe that will be toned down some.)

There’s a lot of violence here too. The world of “Dog Stars” is strictly one of shoot first and ask questions later, regardless of the age or sex of the assumed perpetrators. Yes, the protagonist feels some remorse, but he still kills a lot of people. And it isn’t just in self-defense. Everyone is a threat, regardless. (Except a group of Mennonites that I’m still unsure plot-wise what the significance was.)

There is some sexual activity depicted. I don’t know if I would call it graphic, but the description is fairly clear. Essentially, it is world devoid of any morality, aside from what feels right at the time. There is only a passing reference to a Christian in the book. (Aside from the Mennonites, I assume.) And that one allusion paints Christians merely as “simple”.

So what am I left with here? “The Dog Stars” kept my attention through the end, and there were some redemptive and moving moments in it. I credit the author for being experimental, and for crafting a believable, yet vile, world. But I can’t recommend it. I don’t know that the ending was big enough, or bold enough, to justify the journey.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Dana (new)

Dana The writing style is making it difficult to get into -it's a bit irritating. I am intrigued by the story however so I may plod along. Thanks for pointing out the odd first-person writing style. I thought I was the only one who was bugged by it.


Kerry Nietz Dana wrote: "The writing style is making it difficult to get into -it's a bit irritating. I am intrigued by the story however so I may plod along. Thanks for pointing out the odd first-person writing style. I t..."

Glad to help, Dana. I'd be interested to hear what you think after you're done. Some people are calling the style poetic, but I often just found it distracting.


Andrew I got used to the writing about a quarter of the way in. Of course I had to stop reading anything else as flipping from a more traditional style to this and back was frustrating to say the least.

As to the ending, I was having trouble putting into words what bothered me about it, but you nailed it perfectly.


Kerry Nietz Andrew wrote: "I got used to the writing about a quarter of the way in. Of course I had to stop reading anything else as flipping from a more traditional style to this and back was frustrating to say the least.

..."


Thanks, Andrew. I appreciate you saying that. Glad I wasn't the only one.


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