This week so far we have a hate-crime killing in Las Vegas which left two police officers and three other people dead, and another school shooting, this time in Oregon, leaving two people dead and at least one wounded. I’m sure many other violent crimes became known during the same time period, and more remain behind closed doors, hidden for years, if ever even to see the light. Movies in our local theaters include Edge of Tomorrow, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Maleficient, Godzilla, and A Million Ways to die in the West. Pretty violent fare – with something for everyone, good and bad alike. Yesterday was election day, too, which in this social-media world sometimes seems more like spin-the-bottle dare than choice. In this environment our Book Bistro met to discuss the dystopian future presented by Peter Heller in The Dog Stars.
Several book club members liked the novel, one even more so after a second reading. Our first responder found the clipped, journal-like narrative style to be beautiful, like a long poem, and easy to read. Yet some didn’t like the writing style and struggled to read it. One member so fervently disliked the book that she felt if she were ever to ban a book, this would be it! Many of us had mixed feelings, but the majority felt that in a post-apocalyptic world, survival of the fittest, as described by Heller, would rule at first, civilization only later.
Some of the details seemed too easy. This limited point of view left a lot of questions and seemed almost like cheating. If flying out of the valley was too dangerous with the extra weight, why didn’t Hig pick up both father and daughter on the road? Why weren’t more people connecting by radio? We discussed global warming as a continued threat and disagreed about whether the ending was happy or bleak.
The meeting was surprisingly calm, but the members are a respectful group and avoided the potential divisiveness of opposing views—at least outwardly. I have in the past been told that a member was hesitant to speak out because of fear of confrontation. Several members did speak at once, which is unavoidable and even a good sign of passion. But some of us are better at interrupting. After the meeting, one member wondered why the discussion guide did not ask about Hig’s killing his wife. That would have been an excellent discussion point! Why that detail?
One of the reasons I write this journal is to offer an opportunity for members to add comments they would have liked to make. Or maybe, only on reflection, hours or days after the meeting, an answer comes to us! Post a comment here or give it to me at the library to post for you.
We answered only a couple of the questions from the discussion guide and finished early enough to introduce our next book, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall-Smith. Many of us were surprised that this bestseller had not been read by everyone. None of the four men in the group have read it! I asked them to think about the believability of a black, female narrator written by a white male. If you have read the book before, re-reading is a great time to pay attention to the language and how the author conveys his ideas. Reading Dog Stars, I couldn’t help but wonder, where was the library? So many books and all the time in the world . . .
Other works mentioned:
- The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
- Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
- The Stand by Stephen King
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- “Time Enough At Last” episode Twilight Zone (DVD) (Based on the short story by Lyn Venable)
Having read the other works mentioned at the end of your journal post, and feeling very engaged by your comments, I feel I must read Heller’s The Dog Stars.
Be sure to let me know when you do!
I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, so I was glad to read these comments. (I attended the May meeting, so I am new and will try to attend in future months). I found this book beautiful and challenging. The personalities of the characters, and the landscapes, were very vividly painted. It has made me consider the importance of connection with other humans – and animals and nature. Hig couldn’t sustain himself without them. He generally showed a brave tenderness, so I was surprised when at times (especially at the Coke truck) a violent rage broke through. But I guess that shows both can be needed for survival. I was glad I had the chance to read it.
Thanks so much for joining the discussion!