There have been some beautifully written and truly upsetting end-of-the-world books recently—The Age of Miracles
and Zone One
come to mind—but Peter Heller's The Dog Stars
has put a fresh twist on the genre. In this quiet, meditative novel, Hig, the main character, has lost his wife and everyone in his family due to a flu epidemic that has killed most of the population of the United States. He now lives with his dog and a survivalist neighbor on an abandoned airstrip that's regularly attacked by roving bands of very scary, violent scavengers. Despite the grimness of his life, Hig manages to see the beauty in his surroundings, and it's his voice that keeps you entranced, with vivid details like "the smell of running water, of cold stone, of fir and spruce, like the sachets my mother used to keep in the sock drawer."
There is still one loss that Hig has to bear, and the grief over this sends him flying in his single-prop plane into the wilderness without enough gas to return. Brilliantly, this isn't the end of the story, because it's the people he meets when he least expects to who change everything, proving a truth we know from our everyday nonfictional lives: Even when it seems like all the humans in the world are only out for themselves, there are always those few who prove you absolutely wrong—in the most surprising of ways.