What this novel does best is convey a feeling of loneliness, loss, and inertia (or perhaps apathy). There is a poetry inherent in the stream-of-conscious writing style that brings the story to life, even as the plot trundles along rather slowly. (And it feels odd to call the book slow, when quite a lot happens in only 330 pages. But it did seem slow.)
Nine years after a flu that has killed 99 "point something" per cent of the population, Hig is living a lonely and stagnant life, his only companions his dog and a gun enthusiast neighbor named Bangley. While Bangley thrives in the intensely violent new world, Hig is uncomfortable with the "shoot first, never negotiate" mindset that seems to be modus operandi in Heller's vision of post-apocalyptic America. Hig longs for the family he lost and the comfort of old routines that have been irrevocably lost.
Hig's stream-of-conscious narrative really helped me see both the debilitating loneliness of his world, and how frozen and stuck Hig is in basic survival mode. He is alive, but barely living. And many of Hig's observations about life, love, and loss are beautiful and haunting. I would say this story is about Hig's awakening and return to life, and for me the plot picked up as Hig began taking steps to become again more of a protagonist than a passive observer in his own life.
I've always been drawn to post-apocalyptic fiction because I find the story of rebuilding society very interesting. After a devastating loss, how would people put their lives back together? How would communities get recreated? The Dog Stars had very little of that, as there were so few people. I would say that this book is more about emotional rebuilding. How does one individual rebuild after such a catastrophic loss?
I've read in a couple of places that this book is likely to become one of the classics of post-apocalyptic fiction. I suspect that's true.