I read the final fifty pages on my front porch, accompanied by the shrill intermittent grinding of a power saw and the sudden shrieking of a bay window slipped from fingers, exploded on the asphalt amid exclamations of surprise and anger and frustrations and forgiveness. It was the dimming of a grey, drizzly day, and clouds shredded apart into salmon on dusky purple. Then the sweeping of shards, disbursement of the neighbors' remodeling work party, a deeper purple above, shaft of yellow-green sunlight almost perpendicular over the crest of our high hill, and silence. Stutter of sparrow's wings. Flicker's final white flit. Homeward. And the closing of the story.
The story harrowing and beautiful and surprising and inevitable and fleetingly hopeful at once.
Stylistically impeccable, clipped phrases inextricably linked to the stuttering, moment to moment acumen of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world.
The pacing sure-handed, the characters singular and solid, sometimes satisfyingly surprising.
And the natural world proceeding inexorably on in its specific beauty and fell fierceness, unsentimentally celebrated in reverent detail - and in contrast to the appalling violence of the few humans left behind after the one-two cocktail of flu pandemic and blood disease extinguishes most of us homo sapiens.
And the narrator, our window to this world, the pilot Hig, worthy of due consideration. Impossible to be good in this kill-or-be-killed world. And yet.
And yet there's a dog. Jasper. Perhaps the most honest representation of a man-dog relationship I've ever read, and believe me, as a young one and in recent years too, I've read quite more than my share.
I had to set this book aside at regular intervals, so intense was the action and the emotional content. And the loss. Yet I am so glad that I persisted.
This one will find a place of honor on my favorites shelf.
If you love this, our entirely imperfect, entirely real world, or you would like to remember to love this world, you might want to pick up this book.
In case you've not encountered reviews of this book yet (it debuted in August) here's the blurb from Peter Heller's website, on which you can also find more articulate reviews than mine and myriad means to buy the book. Which you will do now, please.
Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life–something like his old life–exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return–not enough fuel to get him home–following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face–in the people he meets, and in himself–is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.