67 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2010
This long-awaited novel, the sequel to "World Made By Hand," is a riveting read. Mr. Kunstler has always been a fine writer, as manifest in his well-known nonfiction such as "The Geography of Nowhere" and "The Long Emergency." "The Witch of Hebron" is the culmination of Mr. Kunstler's craft as a writer and social critic. The text flows like sweet honey with a lyricism that is breathtaking.
As a physician, there is one scene that particularly resonated with me: a boy, presumably a teenager though I don't believe his age is ever stated, performs an appendectomy under primitive circumstances in a remote farmhouse. Readers may believe that Kunstler has gone over-the-top with this scenario, that it could never happen in real life. Actually, this scene is completely authentic, compelling, and anatomically accurate to the smallest detail.
Could it ever happen, could a child observe surgeries performed by a parent nowadays, and sufficiently often to perform those surgeries by himself? Yes, it can and is happening. I know that for a fact because one of my colleagues often has his son in the operating room with him while operating at a major university hospital. I suspect the child's presence violates hospital rules but that doesn't stop the son from watching his father operate. The son will someday become a surgeon himself, exactly as the boy (Jasper) in Kunstler's imagined world.
There may be more verisimilitude to this scene than even Kunstler imagined when he wrote it.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2010
I am a fan of James Kunstler. I find myself usually in agreement with his critiques of our society as expressed on his web site. I wanted to like The Witch of Hebron, just as I wanted to like its predecessor, World Made By Hand.
Unfortunately, my disbelief was not suspended long enough to permit unreserved enjoyment. Rather than bring his great knowledge of present technology and its possible consequences for the future to these novels, he has chosen to give us Little House on the Prairie. We are asked to believe that in less than a decade urbane citizens of the 21st century are suddenly transformed into people who name their babies Jasper, converse like Chester to Matt Dillon and are skilled and comfortable at the plow behind their mule.
The causes of this sudden transformation are given as a disastrous Middle Eastern war, the back side of Peak Oil, the ascendency of China and terrorist attacks against major U.S. cities, all of which have already happened or could easily occur again. Kunstler's easy answer is a return to the 19th century, complete with a shortage of horses. I would be more receptive to a future exhibiting a gradual backsliding of our society with responses and alternatives and accommodations being made all along the way until some equilibrium is achieved.
Some combination of 19th, 20th and 21st centuries would seem more plausible to me. For instance, Jim Kunstler, a confessed cyclist, never mentions the bicycle in his post-disaster world. Horses and mules are in, bicycles are out. I feel sure the bicycle, a product of the 1800s, would still be manufactured in one form or another. The millions of bikes now extant could be maintained long into the future. Unless the infrastructure and roads suddenly collapsed without hope of being maintained or repaired, bicycles would certainly be more practical everyday transportation than mules. I could see auto traffic greatly restricted, the death of malls and suburbia, the hasty revival of rail traffic, the dependence upon locally grown food, a great lessening of available energy and much less easy communications among communities. But the wholesale adoption of the 19th century without reference to anything since is not believable.
Another odd thing: The community in Kunstler's world has no interest beyond their immediate area, no curiosity about the state of the world. Not much attempt at trade or communication with others out of the area except some boat trade with Canada.
What else? Well, to me there was a curious deference given to the supernatural which seems out of character for Kunstler, the pragmatist. Maybe he's more spiritual than I thought.
This fan was disappointed.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2010
It seems novelists aren't writing about the present as much. Perhaps because it takes such a long time to write a novel. Who wants to spend years writing a novel that's irrelevant by the time it's published. In the nineteenth century (think Tolstoy) novelists wrote about the past, because the present was too uneventful. In the twenty-first century writers look to the future because the present is too eventful. For us the present is last week.
The Witch of Hebron imagines a near future following a nuclear attack on Washington D.C. and Los Angeles that plunges American society back into the nineteenth century, where people have do for themselves. Set in the future it is all about the past. In this upside down world computer programmers are civic leaders, car dealers are religious leaders, butchers are heroic hermits. Characters are seen stoically adapting to an agrarian lifestyle with no electricity, no gas for their SUV's, no groceries not produced locally, no TV or radio, no convenience. If you want to get somewhere you have to walk or borrow a horse or mule.
If you find this notion of the future totally ominous, you would be wrong. The story is not about Jasper and his adventures on the road. The main character in this story is our planet slowly healing itself from the excesses of the Industrial Age. It is redolent with sensual and mythic detail. Trout schooling in clear streams. Songbirds singing in the greenery of healthy trees. The air is clean and sweet. And it is quiet. No TV. No traffic. No telephones. Cuisines are simple, aromatic and healthy. There is a strong sense of both solitude and community. Gradually, except for a few gratuitous scenes of rough justice, a feeling grows in the reader that this is not such a bad way to live.
This is an important novel. The country cannot be reminded too often that the age of fossil fuel is over, maybe not next week, but soon. This near future is not something to fear. It is something to await with open arms.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2010
I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy of "The Witch of Hebron," James Kunstler's sequel to "A World made by Hand."
This has been long awaited. Tore through it over two sleepless nights.
As expected, Mr. Kunstler brings us another marvelous work of fiction and story telling, bringing to vivid life a period that could very well come to pass in our not so distant future.
Those who have read "The Long Emergency," with it's prophetic vision of a civilization that has gotten itself into a corner with its finite energy source, will know exactly what I'm talking about. In that work he detailed where we came from and where we're headed regards our petroleum addiction in a way that was technically detailed, but at the same time entertaining. Kunsler, whose use of edgy, irreverent humor, is the only one I have read on this subject that has pulled it off effectively.
Enter "A World made by Hand," and now it's sequel, "Witch of Hebron." These follow on works take the premise of "Long Emergency" and bring it to life as only fictional story telling can do. In this way they form an essential trilogy that combines both non-fiction and the "close your eyes and watch it unfold" of top shelf story telling.
These works transcend what we call the genre of post-apocalyptic fiction. They take a higher ground. They're based on a future that could be called post-apocalyptic, but at the same time plug straight into that main cable of N. Eastern tale started so long ago by James Finnimore Cooper.
It's easy to feel the chill of a Hudson River fall, hear the strains of music made by hand, see the vivid colors of maples and oaks shedding their foliage while people bring in their harvest the way it was done for centuries...by hand. It's not an easy life, but it also isn't polluted by poisoned food, soul crushing, box like existences awash in electronic, sensory assaults.
At the same time, throw in a dash of the great "mysterious" that has largely been crushed by our commute driven, digital and gas soaked world, as that part of of the human existence needs quiet and an uncluttered environments to breath.
Best read by candlelight, just in time for Halloween. (and clean enough to read out loud because James doesn't need the garish splash of smut so many others seem to require. He's a story teller, not a thrash metal band with a word processor.)
Get them in hard copy as you will read them again and beware of "Lending" them to friends. Like the night spirits, they have a habit of flitting away into the moonlight, never to be seen again.
Kudos to Atlantic Press, by the way, whose quality presentation make them worthy of a place on your bookshelf next to your classics.
The wait begins for number three...
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2011
I am a big Kunstler fan and really enjoyed World Made by Hand. In fact, I enjoyed The Witch of Hebron even more and anxiously await the third installment.
But I have one major complaint: Why do all the ding-dang characters talk like they're livin' on the gosh-durn prairie in the 1800s???
I think the book would have been more interesting and impactful to hear modern, 21st century speak juxtaposed against the characters' new primitive lifestyles (would you really lose the slang in a few years?). It doesn't seem so jarring to hear small-town farmer talk by people behaving like, small-town farmers. But give me some 21st century computer/internet slang by a former corporate computer guy... who is (trying to be) a small-town farmer, and that will hit home a bit more as to what really is going on.
So while I loved the book and I think Kunstler has great ideas, I think he made a major misstep here. I also think he editorializes a bit too much, bashing the 21st century lifestyle in not very subtle ways. It would have been better if a character said it, and not Kunstler in a narrative. It's too obvious and jarring.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2010
Having read and loved A World Made by Hand, I looked forward to getting to better know Mr. Kunstler's homey and intriguing cast of characters in a small town trying to rebuild after the fall of civilization as we it. There is the doctor, the minister, the leader of the new Christian sect who have taken over the local high school, the local upper class landowner with his own sprawling compound and near the end of the first book even a strong hint of the mystical and slightly supernatural thrown in. Mix all that in a post apocalyptic setting where oil is gone, where electricity is largely a memory and where travel is done by foot or horseback, and you should have all the ingredients that would satisfy readers of the genre.
Unfortunately, where the first book is a great introduction to the small town of Union Grove, the second book in the series meanders and has no clear plot to speak of. A case in point is the witch herself who makes up the title of this book: she is one character of many and her "witch" aspect is both minimal as well as non central to the story regardless. If anything, the book is about the trials and travels of the doctor's son, who runs away after his dog is killed by a local horse, falling in with a very unsavory and quite dastardly ruffian.
The book has two central problems: First is that there are a whole bunch of things that happen in the book without a central plot of any kind. Being a short book that can be read almost in one sitting, it seems every plot that could go somewhere got the short end of the stick without enough exploration or detail. Ultimately that means that there just isn't enough meat of the bones of the story for any of the minor plots that weave the book to be satisfying. Secondly and perhaps just as significant is the complete lack of any tie in of our small town to the outside world. Heck, this is a post apocalyptic world, but the author spends no time at all investigating or exploring the larger picture. Instead, he focuses inward on a few individuals in our small town, cut off from the rest of the world, and never postulates or ponders the bigger issues of the world after the collapse.
My advice would be to read A World Made by Hand, the first book in this series, which I do recommend. That book sets up a great cast of characters and a hopeful apocalyptic world where the characters are doing their best to rebuild and have a life. The Witch of Hebron, unfortunately, does not do anything to further develop those characters and doesn't have much of a plot to boot.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2010
Running away from reality, and searching for something lost or unknown are the twin themes that define James Howard Kunstler's new novel The Witch of Hebron (Atlantic Monthly Press). Subtitled A World Made by Hand Novel, the book is a sequel to Kunstler's initial exploration of the world after it all goes even further to hell than it already has here in our real world.
In Kunstler's landmark non-fiction book The Long Emergency, the writer and social critic warned passionately and convincingly of the nigh-apocalyptic results likely to come to pass as a result of the untimely but inevitable confluence of a number of paradigm shifts that we seem to be in the middle of: Peak Oil, climate change, and the collapse of economic delusions that, even as I write this, seem to be slowly, agonizingly bringing the entire planet to its knees (in fact, Kunstler recently declared on his blog that he believes we are now in Phase Two of The Long Emergency).
In Kunstler's World Made by Hand, the author turned his talents to fiction to illustrate what is likely to happen after the dust is settled, the oil is gone, the wars are over (and in fact, impossible) and the world has become much larger and filled with unknowns (there are rumors that an American government still exists somewhere, but with no power to communicate beyond the sound of one's own voice, no one is quite sure - the only thing known for certain is that both Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles were destroyed by nukes before the times completely transformed into the new world).
And so The Witch of Hebron finds Kunstler returning again to the fictional but very fully-realized town of Union Grove, in Washington County, New York. The story picks up just months after the climax of World Made by Hand, and many of the same characters (the hokey but mystical Brother Jobe, the profoundly decent and deeply human Robert Earle, mayor of Union Grove), return. There are new people to learn about as well, most notably the psychopathic self-aggrandizing bandit Billy Bones, and the titular and altogether mesmerizing (to the characters, and to this reader) Witch of Hebron, Barbara Maglie. The main focus of the story, though, is on 11-year old Jasper Copeland, son of the town doctor and the character whose brash but sympathetic actions drive the narrative. Jasper suffers a great loss and strikes out in his pain, utilizing what he has learned as the son of the town's doctor to take unwise revenge, and then fleeing Union Grove for the promise of the near-legendary city of Glens Falls, twenty miles and a world away.
Jasper has heard many things about Glens Falls and hopes to start a new life there, where he can apprentice with a doctor and hide from the shame and agony of what he has done. Unfortunately for him, he meets up with the quite insane (but nonetheless somewhat charming, in his own ridiculous way) Billy Bones along the way; additionally, Glens Falls isn't quite what it used to be, as Kunstler lays out in an astonishing travelogue along one of its former main roads. Meanwhile, back in Union Grove, the victim of Jasper's revenge uses some supernatural means to determine who is responsible for what has happened, and where he might currently be, and all the narrative lines begin to flow inexorably (and joyously - Kunstler's storytelling here flows like the mighty Hudson on a sun-dappled fall afternoon) toward the well-appointed and dream-like home of The Witch of Hebron.
Kunstler's regular weekly essays on his website frequently decry the denial and immaturity of the American mindset that has gotten us where we are today, and I am sure it's no coincidence that Jasper's initial actions and choices seem to stem from similar drives. His actions set him on a journey that will decide the rest of his life, just as Kunstler no doubt believes that the choices being made every day on the personal and national level will define our culture and way of life for decades and even centuries to come. The author doesn't hit us over the head with themes and metaphors, though - even more so than World Made by Hand, The Witch of Hebron is first and foremost a rollercoaster ride through a new world of broken highways and dim memories of another time. One dazzling sequence finds a character remembering fondly a time when imported delights and spectacular delicacies were as close as a stop at the nearest supermarket, a luxury no one at all can enjoy in the new times of The Witch of Hebron.
On the other hand, Kunstler suggests with great power and detail the very real pleasures that could stand revealed after the end of our current world. The Witch of Hebron establishes a place where the Bloomin' Onion is gone but not forgotten (it is, in fact, fondly remembered, and in great detail), but where such deep-fried and ultimately destructive treats have been supplanted by real, local foods that are devoured by the residents of Union Grove with a gusty hedonism no doubt inspired by the very real struggle it would take to create such sustenance by hand. Whether a character is eating mashed potatoes with real, locally produced butter or the inescapable staple cornbread (wheat won't grow in the part of the world these stories are told in), one gets the feeling that each bite is pondered over and enjoyed because it is the product of hard work, and not easily gotten. Kunstler is often criticized for having a "doom and gloom" perspective, but the joy his characters take in the simplest pleasures and necessities show that he not only believes a better world can come out of our current transformative times, but that it almost by definition has to.
There's a good deal of the supernatural to be found in The Witch of Hebron, as you might expect from the title. Some people seem to carry special abilities that were unknown in the old (i.e., our) times. Being a loyal and enthusiastic follower of Kunstler's blunt, no-nonsense non-fiction, I had been both surprised and even a bit put off by World Made by Hand's more fantastical elements (especially the powers of Brother Jobe). But such mysticism and exploration of the unknown is a common element in post-apocalyptic fiction (see Stephen King's The Stand as perhaps the best example, or better yet, The Bible's Book of Revelations), and it stands to reason that once the world stops being distracted by big screen TVs, YouTube and NASCAR, perhaps humankind will discover (or rediscover) a connection to the unknown parts of ourselves that can commune with the universe in ways we can only begin to imagine in our present state. In any case, powers such as those of Brother Jobe or The Witch of Hebron allow amazing transformations to happen, not only for Jasper, but for others in need of change (Jasper), or help (the Reverend Loren Holder), or revelation (Jasper's father, the town doctor). More than once, Kunstler's skill at depicting the joy of life, or discovery, or change, arrested my senses with a sympathetic appreciation for what his characters are able to learn and achieve, and with a renewed appreciation for the skill with which the author composes his prose.
Ultimately, whether our world goes precisely the way Kunstler expects (in both his fiction and non-fiction) is yet to be known. But the world the author creates, burned-out big box stores, torn-up pavement and all, is one worth exploring, and one that celebrates a very real human spirit that could still be burning within us all. If only we'd shut off the big-screen TVs, let go of the illusions and distractions that blind us to the true nature of our world now and in the very near future, and take the time to focus on what is real and what is true. There is kindness and great potential at the heart of nearly every soul, Kunstler seems to say, but we have buried them under so many Bloomin' Onions and old car tires that we have all but forgotten what it is to truly be alive. Let The Witch of Hebron remind you.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2010
The Witch of Hebron: A World Made by Hand Novel by James Howard Kunstler was an absolutely fantastic read. Kunstler is a prophetic writer in my opinion, and I honestly hope that what he is envisioning as the future does not come true. Too many of us will be woefully unprepared for it all and will simply not be able to cope. However, life will go on.
At first this book seemed to lean a little too much toward the episodic, but as the story draws closer and closer to the end you realize that's just the author's way of drawing great parallels, making great connections, and bringing it all together for the reader.
I read World Made by Hand first, and then I read The Long Emergency. The Long Emergency emplaces a very strong and solid foundation on which these two great works of speculative fiction are built. I would strongly suggest reading these works by Kunstler in the "right" order: The Long Emergency, World Made by Hand, and then The Witch of Hebron. Doing so will just set up a great mental stage for the reader.
I kept finding myself trying to figure out when exactly this story is taking place. It's obviously a possible future, but I wanted the year in which it all occurs. I even went back and referenced World Made by Hand to try and pin down as accurate a timeline as possible. It seemed a bit futile at first; that is, these two books are works of fiction and there may not be a very real time for it all. All of the clues seemed to dance toward and then around an exact time. But then it happened . . . a very simple exchange between two key characters in The Witch of Hebron about a day or date, the phases of the moon, and a holiday of sorts pegged it for me. Very good work Mr. Kunstler!
Many of us, God willing, will be around to look back at today in a strange retrospective should this future come to fruition. What we have today will seem so far away even though only a reasonable number of years will have gone by should Kunstler's vision of the future become clear to us all.
By the way, I'm very happy that The Witch of Hebron did not get bogged down in today's ideas of political and social correctness, or worse, some fashionable or fad-like form of early 21st century egalitarianism. I just read and enjoyed the book, and learned from it too. Others should try to do the same.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2011
It is interesting and technically well written storyline, but the author's bias prevents it from being an engrossing read. I kept having to hit the "Really?-Well-ok-whatever" button. It is obvious that he has never gotten to know a woman that he was not interested in sexually. Apparently all of us competent women who can create a solar cell from spit and bailing wire died out in the flu pandemic. The only women who are left are ho's, servants, wives or a combination of all the above. The wives that survive are those that sit with quivering loins waiting for their husband to give them pleasure. In this story an 11 year old boy has more competent life skills than the most skilled woman, the Witch of Hebron.
The other glaring bias that the author has which is evident in this book and in "The World Made By Hand" is his disparaging view of anyone who works for a living. If you can believe that a former CEO suddenly discovers that he has the ability to be a master carpenter using hand tools but people who work with there hands all day don't have the common sense to plant a potato in their front yard or take a bath without a CEO to guide them, then this book is for you.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2011
I enjoyed reading both of Kunstler's post society novels. I finished both in two days time. I was happy to read a post apocalyptic novel not set in a nightmarish landscape like the Stand, Swansong, or the Road.
But I have a few points of contention, many of which have been pointed out already (which I'll exclude).
All this happened 10 years after the telephones went down. So basically, society turned 180 degrees in a decade. Many things should still be in abundance, and not just salvage from left over homes and housing materials.
12 bandits raided Bullock's community ... and they were all apprehended. Ok ...
An 11 year old talks like a 31 year old.
The child trafficker hung himself instead of trying to escape.
There's no electricity because electricity runs on oil, and there's no oil left. What about all the homes who converted to solar power? There was no evidence of anyone taking advantage of or salvaging solar panels.
Did the entire world turn back to the 18th and 19th century or just the USA? It was mentioned that the US military was still fighting in the Holy Land. So there was no military recall after the nuclear bombings of LA and DC? What about the international community? Wouldn't our enemies or unfriendly neighbors send warships to our shores? I hardly think we'd be left alone like that.
Ok, putting these issues aside. The book was an enjoyable read.