(find the judgment here)
The Dog Stars
by Peter Heller
"I wake from dream into dream and am not sure why I keep going. That I suspect only curiosity keeps me alive. That I'm not sure any longer if that is enough."
An apt example sentence if ever there was one. For this is exactly what I found myself wondering about...two pages into the book. What is it about adult fiction that makes writers suddenly feel free to go crazy? I know I am a self-proclaimed lover of young adult literature and people don't tend to take me seriously because of it. But maybe it's because adult fiction is really just a bunch of grown-ups trying to prove they're not kids anymore. But they do it in the most asinine way possible.
Now, I wouldn't exactly call myself a prude. There are books with swearing, sex, or drug use that I can appreciate. As long as there's a reason for it--as in it makes sense. So the first few F words, fine. This guys living in a crappy world filled with awful people, I guess a dirty mouth only makes sense. But this book averaged about three F words a page. At some three hundred pages...it becomes a little excessive. And then there's the whole sex thing. I know, I know. People have sex. It happens. It's a thing of life. And men who go nine years without it I'm sure would naturally think about it were a beautiful woman to suddenly walk into their lives. But I don't need to know every awkward detail just because it's happening. With or without the sex scene, the book would happen. So why be so blatant and crude about it? Since when did vulgarity equal maturity?
It's kind of an unfair standard: if drugs, sex, and swearing are in YA fiction, people are up in arms claiming literature is ruining their kids' moralities. It's YA books that are banned from schools, too awful for their dear children to face. Books like Catcher in the Rye or anything Mark Twain. But when I read something about F-ing with some hot young thing and all the...let's say intimate details involved, I want to turn around and yell "Right back at ya." Cuz things here just got awkward real fast.
This is why I read YA, people.
And maybe it is just me, but I think this book would have been just as strong without all that. Okay, let's be fair: without so much of it. But I doubt it would have gotten so much attention. Because people like the shock and awe factor. They like inexplicable gore and violence and sensuality. You see it in movies, you see it in books. So maybe it's inevitable. Maybe I should let adult fiction be just that: adult. So let's ignore all that lovely stuff and focus on the story. Did I like it?
Maybe. I can't really say. I wasn't at all invested in the main character, Hig, or his life decisions. But I was interested in the world he was forced to reside in. And there was a certain effortlessness to Heller's Hemingway-like prose. It was simplistic. Stylistic. Choppy. Desperate. Interesting (once you got into the swing of it). Heller does a great job at characterizing a heartless world and, while there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to the plot, that same inexplicability makes this desperate world seem all the more real. And Hig's heartbreak for his dead wife is...beautiful. The obsession for the dog--practically titular--is unexplained. In fact, it's mostly forgotten after about thirty pages in when the animal, well, dies. It became almost awkward when Hig brought it up later--as if Heller realized that maybe if he wanted "dog" in the title, he should keep mentioning it throughout. Even as a way to keep someone from killing him. Cuz that would work on me.
So, yes, this is a chilling novel, a frightening world, and it's a story about a broken man's search for wholeness in a shattered world. There were definitely some heart-wrenching, hopeless and beautiful parts. But they were far and few between, tangled around a mess of distracting vulgarity. Call me quaint, but it just didn't work for me. So if this is the best of new adult fiction, count me out. I'd so rather have a taste of YA any day.