on February 20, 2008
It's really good. Surprisingly so, given that most attempts at novelisation by people who are basically pundits on an educational/propaganda mission to save the world are dismal artistic failures. But this novel is good, the guy can actually write.
It's a realistic depiction of the post-collapse USA. What collapse, you ask? Not exactly specifically told, but somehow related to Peak Oil, financial ruination, that kind of stuff. He depicts the after-shocks on the ground, rubber-meets-pavement (or I should say, hooves-meet-pavement, I guess).
The world has shrunk into an uneasy Darwinian jostling, local warlordism and gangsterish Machiavellian counterpunching among various ugly power cells, with a bunch of religion leavening the stink, er ... the stew. One civil gentleman tries to hold onto some kind of rational center.
Here's a powerful message from this book (so don't say nobody clued you in time) - Learn a practical trade, something useful, essential to daily life, that requires neither electric power nor high-tech tools or materials. Butcher, baker, candle-stick maker.
Few Interesting Points:
1. Speech style: Everybody's speech pattern has reverted to an oddly folksy kind of 19th century, Mark-Twain-ish patois.
2. Ism's: Not the slightest hint of feminism has survived The Fall. Women are pretty much seen but not heard. And homosexuality seems to perhaps have been swept away by the dreaded plague of "Mexican Flu" maybe? African-American's don't exist in upstate New York, but racial trouble festers elsewhere across the country.
3. Infrastructure: Town in upstate New York benefits very heavily from left-over 19th century infrastructure, most very especially the robustly designed and constructed gravity-fed water ducts. Rest of the country will not have this legacy! *bite nails*
4. Give thanks for (current) hot showers, razors, modern dentistry. No mention is made of the deodorant situation.
Although presented as a disaster scenario, I feel the author secretly has quite a hard-on for the mid 19th century.
Kunstler's depiction of collapsed upper NY state reminds me more than anything of Ishikawa Eisuke's great (Japanese language) novel '2050 Nen ha: Edo Jidai' (Year 2050: Return to the Edo Period), which also gives a local-eye view of a post-collapse, formerly high-tech society. These two novels are very similar, but Kunstler probably didn't model on Ishikawa's earlier work as that is not available in English.
I've read hundreds of apocalypse / post-collapse books, 'The Postman' type of stuff. Some of them, such as Luke Rhinehart's 'Long Voyage Back' or Jean Hegland's 'Into the Forest', are better written, real literature. And some have wilder gripping action, obviously 'Lucifer's Hammer' comes to mind for that. But for poignant realism, to a reader living exactly where and how we are right now, 'World Made By Hand' strikes closest to the heart.
More than anything, this book is sad. It will make you sad. It's a cliche to say that we take everything for granted. We do, but you need that truth rubbed in your face sometimes to revitalize it. This book really does that.
But if you really want to put yourself through an emotional coffee-grinder in the opposite direction, stomp yourself in the gut by reading "The Road" (Cormac McCarthy) immediately prior to "World by Hand". Then you'll feel that Kuntstler's "World", where at least the grass still grows and the rivers still flow, is for all its horrors, a beautiful Elysian Field, direct from the hand of whatever Lord you care to name.
There are significant flaws in Kunstler's World Made By Hand. That's the bad news. The good news, though, is that it's an incredibly seductive vision of the world after things have fallen apart. It takes an artist of great skill to make the apocalypse look attractive.
First, the bad news. Except for the protagonist Robert Earle and his buddy Loren Holder, none of the characters are really developed. This is especially true of poor Jane Ann, Loren's wife and Robert's mistress, and Britney, the young widow who eventually becomes Robert's live-in lover. But curiously, it's also true of Brother Jobe, the leader of the New Faith cult that comes into town. For that matter, the New Faithers as a whole are underdeveloped. Sometimes they seem ominous, sometimes innocent. What's the reader supposed to make of them?
Moreover, the novel begins to unravel toward the end, as if Kunstler had planned a book twice its size but halfway through ran out of steam and abruptly pulled the plug. The Queen Bee and identical deaths chapters are bizarrely out of place, without absolutely no textual anticipation or follow-up. (Likewise with the curiously irrelevant--yet its portency is clearly suggested--revelation that Robert is actually a Jew who has changed his name: what's that all about!?) An earlier reviewer insightfully remarked that the book's chapters could almost be read as individual vignettes.
So why read the book? Ah, that's where the good news comes in. Kunstler's world made by hand is one that is emerging after the world we now dwell in has collapsed. Terrorist attacks on both coasts, the end of fossil fuels and the lifestyle that went with them, devastating diseases spread in part by the warming of the planet, and a total breakdown of centralized government and communications, have all contributed to a new way of life that returns survivors to an earlier way of life. Communities are relatively self-supporting, isolated, and mechanical (made by hand). Folks learn genuine skills--carpentry, bee-keeping, sewing, music-making--instead of the bizarrely artificial ones we now think are indispensible--banking, accounting, travel agenting, real estating. Since there's no fuel, people walk or ride horses. Their slower pace of life reawakens them to the beauty of nature, the solace of silence, the rejuvenating effects of simplicity. Life in Kunstler's new world isn't easy, and the crash that took everything down was obviously pretty bad. But in the midst of the ruins, something important is being rediscovered.
How ironic, that the collapse of a society that wantonly glutted itself on nonrenewable resources might reveal a perennially renewable resource: human spirit, cooperation, compassion, and hope. But the bittersweetness of this realization is permanent, because the renewability of humanity, at least in Kunstler's novel, carries an enormous pricetag.
on February 25, 2008
This is a finely-written view of a post-collapse America. Cormac Mccarthy's novel Road was an altogether darker vision: Kunstler's book is neither as dark or foreboding. Society functions, but only locally--there are no national or even regional governments, as far as is known. We've gone from Friedman's The World is Flat to a world where communication and trade resembles that of, say, 800AD. "Here be Dragons" might as well appear on maps. The number of people in Union Grove in upstate New York who have travelled more than 50 miles from home is small, at least until a flock of The New Faith arrive from Virginia.
The amenities are gone: no gasoline, no bicycles (for want of rubber tires), no antibiotics, no anaesthesia, roads and bridges crumbling into complete disrepair. Yet life goes on, as America in 1700 got by without bicycles and antibiotics. Robert Earle, the central fugure in the novel, works as a carpenter--his former life in computing is gone forever. Lack of oil, nuclear explosions, and the Mexican Flu all contributed to the collapse. The Flu took most of Earle's family except for his son, who left on his own many years before and never heard from again. Earle takes things philosophically and with grace, and is more at ease with his world than most of us could be. In Earle, Kunstler has provided a rock about which life swirls: he provides a foundation of normality, insofar as normality can exist, and his character prevents a doom-and-gloom view type book from prevailing.
Kunstler presents a well-drawn picture of a world where there are no chain saws and power tools, no refrigeration, very little electric power anywhere. Paper money is disappearing, bartering is returning, work is done by hand. Horses are great assets. You will probably find yourself asking some questions: some of these are answered, some are not. After 20 or 30 years of life in places such as Union Grove, where are the clothes coming from? How many people could weave a shirt? There do not seem to be many sheep around for wool, and you get the impression from the book that everything isn't animal skins. What about glassmaking for storage jars and windows? There should perhaps be a cottage industry for saltpeter to make gunpowder. But these are relatively minor. The primary thing is the wonderfully detailed, finely crafted view of a world where people have had to return to the amenities of colonial times, or even long before that. This is a novel that's creative and well thought out: very worth reading.
on February 9, 2008
James Howard Kunstler is as important a public intellectual as we have today. This work gives him an opportunity to imagine in fictional terms what life may be like during the permanent crisis he believes inevitable. It is every bit as gripping as the "Living in the Long Emergency" chapter from his previous book, but as a story the novel embodies a genuine narrative momentum unavailable to the essayist. Mr. Kunstler portrays skillfully the community of Union Grove, drawing on his own extensive knowledge of Washington County, New York. He introduces very early in the text a conflict between town citizens and Wayne Karp, a former trucker who runs the disreputable salvaging operation from the dump beyond the edge of Union Grove. This is amongst the narrative's widest arcs, resolved only at the novel's end. The secondary conflict is between wealthy landowner Stephen Bullock and Dan Curry, the corrupt merchant who controls business in Albany, and it broadens effectively the range of Mr. Kunstler's social criticism.
But the story, itself, really belongs to the first-person narrator, Robert Earle, a former software executive who moved from suburban Boston to Union Grove after a West Coast terrorist attack closed all ports and thus choked the American economy. His family is splintered by the long emergency: wife Sandy and daughter Genna have died without antibiotics and state-of-the-art medical care; son Daniel has left home to see what is left of America beyond upstate New York. Fortunately, Robert has carpentry skills and more than a little residual ambition, awakened by the arrival of the "New Faith" religious sect that uses the abandoned high school in town as its new headquarters. There is delicious tension between these strident evangelicals and the passive congregationalists that make up the faithful in Union Grove. Until the arrival of Brother Jobe and his crew from the South, religion seems little more than a surrogate for collapsed state and city governments. But even the fire-and-brimstone of the New Faith is tempered with civic practicality and the no-nonsense might of former soldiers who assert themselves in their new surroundings. As if to balance the ambitions of the newcomers, the livyers of Union Grove shake off the lethargy that befell them after their initial accommodation to crisis. Mr. Kunstler here recognizes that ideological conflict should give rise to compromise and innovation in healthy societies, in contrast to the political schisms that have arrested our progress today. In a world made by hand, community is more important than anything else, and it is true that individuals thrive in Union Grove based on their ability and willingness to collaborate with their neighbors. There are long passages describing the bounties of an earth relieved of much of its industrial burden. Mr. Kunstler takes great pleasure in describing food and drink, the acoustic music that defines what little leisure time is available to a people drawn back into agrarian living.
There are many clever touches throughout. Intermittent flashes of electricity animate old radios long enough to broadcast exhortations from hysterical preachers. There is no press, though references to broadsheets brought by traders suggest the American federal government, having fallen apart after various attempts at martial law, has been unable to reassert itself. The two-day odyssey to Albany, accomplished in less than an hour today by car, employs the "road trip" to show the suffering of outliers and the dishonesty of commerce that tries to proceed as if globalization is soon coming back. There is no rubber for tires or footwear, no refrigeration, no proper anesthetic. One cannot read this novel without appreciating how fragile life will be without the essentials whose existence we have smothered underneath our luxuries, and, yet, this remains a remarkably optimistic book. Mr. Kunstler is criticized always for his gloomy writings, as he imagines for example the class riots we will suffer once the lumpen realize, once and for all, the American Dream will not be theirs. But Union Grove will not here tolerate delinquency, and in a population already thinned by the Mexican Flu epidemic, citizens who are careless about themselves and others simply do not survive.
I appreciate the thought that has gone into reconsidering new challenges to the family. How will gender relations change when women who may have children are no longer valued for the diversity of views they bring to the corporate world? What role is there for children in an agrarian society that offers only rudimentary schooling? What complicated living arrangements may emerge when many husbands and wives are taken, prematurely, from partners who expected the ease of divorce, and not the onset of epidemic, to be the biggest challenge to their marriages? Similarly, the plantation run by Stephen Bullock and the compound constructed by the New Faith sect suggest old ways of organizing ourselves that may be reasserted. The former offers limited hydroelectricity if one only embraces a feudal model; the latter is built around a mystical seer who suggests that unexplained wonders still pulse beneath the din of our iPods.
I think I expected to read how our world fell apart when I picked up this novel. Mr. Kunstler must provide some explanations, of course, and so his characters are permitted a limited amount of reminiscing, though readers are reminded constantly that nostalgia is deadly in a world made by hand. Similarly, young Sarah Watling is introduced as a character to whom Robert is obliged to explain something of how they got where they presently find themselves. But if you want to know what Union Grove had to survive, you can always read Mr. Kunstler's non-fiction. You are not very far into this book before you start wondering what happens when winter comes, and the problem is no longer the humidity but the cold, itself. A gravity-based water system allows something like modern plumbing: what happens when it freezes? I am not puzzled by what happened as much as I am eager to imagine what happens next. If this is truly a world made by hand, it is one made most vividly by the labors of an accomplished and confident author.
Kunstler has done great work in nonfiction, particularly with the possible political and practical ramifications for post-consumerist civilization in "The Long Emergency." Here he has explored the aftermath in the form of a novel, with underwhelming results. There are probably thousands of post-apocalyptic novels in the literary world, most notably in science fiction and horror, in which writers explore how regular folks would survive the collapse of modern civilization's conveniences and social support systems. If you've read even a tiny percentage of the novels in that sub-genre, you will find nothing compelling about Kunstler's vision. He doesn't even really explore the ramifications of his favorite nonfiction subjects like peak oil and climate change, and instead sets up this novel with poorly-defined terrorist attacks and epidemics that wipe out America beyond the borders of a small town in upstate New York.
With everyone besides genteel middle-aged upstaters conveniently out of the picture, the world Kunstler constructs in this novel is laughable. Formerly pampered upper middle-class office workers have transcended the practical necessities of carpentry and craftsmanship by completely regressing into social customs and belief systems from a bygone era. Other reviewers are correct in criticizing the status of women (servitude) and minorities (completely missing) in this fantasy world. Kunstler's society here is a strange mix of Amish village and hippie commune, built on the fantasies of 60 year-old former hippies who still can't understand why their utopia of hemp and free love didn't miraculously emerge back in 1969. Instead of a plausible dystopia based on Kunstler's solid nonfiction research, what we actually have here is a utopia for white upper-middle-class baby boomers (men only) wishing for the good old days that never were.
Meanwhile, the book is populated by hollow and stereotypical characters, with genteel prose that sometimes collapses into forced poignancy like the cringe-inducing "her hair was full of the spice of fresh grass and childbearing." Kunstler's prose often slows down with annoying lists of names, plants, and foods. The plotline remains fairly plausible until falling apart at the end, with an unexplained supernatural deus ex machina that doesn't remotely fit with the attempted realism of the rest of the book. It's as if Kunstler envisioned an 800-page epic but got bored and abruptly cut off the story, or his agent said he could make more money with a trilogy. Either way, Kunstler's nonfiction is much better, [~doomsdayer520~]
on October 3, 2008
To mix metaphors - I had great expectations and instead found a shipwreck on the island of apathy.
First, I will give credit where due - the protagonist is well described and I can empathize with his feelings, depression and apathy. That's basically it for the positive.
It's as if Kunstler did a minimal bit of research and then zero critical thinking on how a society would revert to a more primitive form of social organization once the technological foundation of that modern society was completely removed.
The entire premise of the story revolves around apathy - personal and societal. I find that not only abhorrent, but also unrealistic. If - or maybe it's when - our technology and oil based society fails because of lack of cheap oil and its benefits - travel - long and short distance, cheap heat, chemicals, electrical generation etc., we will find alternatives - whether it's coal derivatives, electrical or some other technology that will only be viable when oil is expensive and scarce.
Does this mean that society will keep up its frenetic pace of change and "progress"? Not at all. Especially if one adds into the mix terrorists with nukes and rampant epidemics that destabilize world society and kill hundreds of millions, if not billions. Society will most likely have to revert to an earlier era where technology is much simpler and supportable for those needs that are "Made by Hand". But that does not mean that some semblance of `modern' technology won't remain and be maintained as viable - steam trains is but one example.
Another example - Kunstler has most (an implied ~99%) of the cars recycled for their steel. Ok, not a bad idea if there isn't any gasoline from foreign oil fields being imported any longer. But... it's fairly simple to convert a gas engine to run on alcohol or even "wood gas" (Google that and you'll be amazed). So there'll be some sort of short range transportation made possible by individuals with an engineering proclivity. Will this sort of thing be wide spread like today's trucks and autos? Not likely nor practical. But it will exist in some form. Why? My answer is human nature. Find the unknown and unworkable and make it work.
Another glaring hole in my opinion is the fact the Kunstler allows the electricity to come on at random intervals and for short random times. If trains, planes and automobiles are non-functioning and non-existent, then where the heck are the electrical generators in this grand scheme? If society can't make a wood fired steam train work, how can a complex power grid be maintained? If apathy is the watchword of the decade, then who the heck is climbing the power poles to connect the power lines? Furthermore, if most of the trucks and autos have been recycled for their metal content, why haven't the power lines been recycled for their copper and aluminum content? I can't willingly suspend my disbelief to cover that large and glaring of a gap.
Guns. Though never specified, it's implied that this story takes place 10 to 15 years after a `crash' where the whole world just stops functioning. Given the number of guns in America in 2008, given the rural setting depicted in the story, the near absence and rarity of guns is one more point where it appears that Kunstler has discarded critical thinking. Even though the population has been devastated by virulent disease, gun violence seems out of the norm and relatively rare. Rare enough to shock the protagonist when it appears early in the narrative. I'd posit that regardless of the number of people that succumbed to the uncontrolled diseases, gangs of thugs would have been, or are still, ravaging the country far and wide, scrounging for food, more guns and women to rape. Survivors would have had to deal with these gangs of thugs time and again - or be killed by them. I would suggest that violence would remain distasteful to thinking and feeling humans, but it would not be as shocking as Kunstler has portrayed it.
I could detail a half-dozen other oversights or outright goofs, but suffice to say that this was not an enjoyable post-apocalyptic story. Way too many gaps of logic to be remotely probable. And for my money that's what makes these sorts of tales enjoyable or not. And this one was not either probable or enjoyable.
on August 9, 2009
I read a lot of post-apocalyptic books. I've always enjoyed being freaked out and scared almost to death by thoughts of the end of the world since I grew up loving films like Blade Runner and The Road Warrior. I've had a renewed interest in reading these books since everything in the world has been unraveling in the past few years (Hollywood has picked up on it too - there are no less that 3 major films coming out in the next 6 months in the post-apocalyptic genre, The Road, 9 and The Book of Eli)and there have been more new books in the genre lately.
World Made by Hand isn't poorly written. That's not quite accurate - the dialogue is poor. The plotting is terrible. The pacing is nonexistent. Yet I read the sample chapter and thought it might be interesting since it was working this whole religious, Amish thing and I hadn't seen that done too often in the genre. It was different so I gave it a chance.
You take a gamble and sometimes you lose.
In Kunstler's near future there have been bombs dropped on LA and Washington that have to do vaguely with a Holy War somewhere else (it is never clear where). There is never any discussion about life outside the US and why no one has helped the US in recovery or what happened to the military and only a passing reference to the government being wiped out in Washington but now set up in Nashville or Minneapolis (but no one knows anything and they don't care - the only thing on the radio is a screaming preacher). Since the falling apart of the US through war and the Mexican Flu, there is only rare electricity and life in upstate NY has reverted to pre-industrial American gothic. Kunstler doesn't seen to think this is a bad idea actually especially if you manage to have a peaceful little town that is filled with white men, subjugated women, no homosexuals, no African-Americans, no people with foreign sounding last names, all Christians and plenty of folks who have old-timey trade skills (how many people do you personally know right this minute who can blow glass? Weave baskets? Identify edible plants? Grow a tomato? Card wool? Light a camp fire? Find fresh water? Fish without a rod and reel? Ride a horse? Yeah, that list was very short for me too.).
This is some kind of whacked out middle-aged male fantasy where there are only middle-aged white men. There are no young men, the only virile one in town is killed off almost immediately and his widow; who is about 25 years younger than the main character becomes ONE of his love interests. It seems everywhere this guy goes, women want him, even though he is pushing 50.
We are supposed to like this guy but he has no soul. No heart. He's lost his entire family but so have most people. He sleeps with his best friend's wife and doesn't feel any moral ambiguity about it. He calls it an arrangement. He ends up shooting some poor bastard and doesn't really have any feelings on that. He starts schtupping the 22 year old widow a week after her husband is murdered in cold blood. No problem with that. He eats lots of meat and is especially entranced with hot dogs, hamburgers and big chunks of beefsteak. In a society such as this meat would be extremely rare since there is NO REFRIGERATION. Things would revert to an agrarian lifestyle.
Many of Kunstler's ideas and background for his world are off the mark.
The people have lots of parties and social events. I had a hard time envisioning this even 10 years or so after the big bombs and mass deaths from the flu. One man in town acts as a robber baron and gentleman farmer with a bunch of serfs/slaves. This seems to be ok by everyone too and this guy has it all, electricity (hydro-electric), music, a concert bandstand, plus plenty of carnival foods.
Yet the town has no electricity and no one seems to want it. They don't want heat in the winter or A/C in the summer? How about refrigeration? They think it is better without cars? Without law and order? Without education? Without emergency medical care? None of these issues are addressed. Kunstler makes his people Amish and they love it. Then he throws in a bunch of religious nutballs who worship a frothing at the mouth fat woman who has seizures and can possibly predict the future. Wow, ok. That ends up being totally left field and makes no sense at all but then Kunstler takes it one step further by making the religious nutball leader uh - something not human. I was totally lost at that point. Was the guy an apparition? Was he a collective hallucination? Was he a messenger of God? I don't know but he named him Job (with an e on the end) so I'm sure to the author it has some significance.
Women in Kunstler's world are nurses, cooks, mothers and whores. Often all at once. They don't participate in local government. They don't have anything to say. They don't read. They don't fight. The young widow sits at home and weaves baskets with her daughter, cooks wonderful meals for the main character, services him with her nubile body and knows how to catch and gut a trout (before she puts it in the smoker).She's like post-apocalyptic Martha Stewart.
The "evil" people in the town live in a trailer park and are rednecks which seems unlikely in upstate NY. They speak like rednecks too saying things like "gol-durn" and "got-dam". Much of the language has reverted to old-timey 19th century colloquialisms. In fact they call the old times "the old-timey times". This use of dialectic made me gnash my teeth. Kunstler probably thought he was being clever but it made for awkward reading. Plus is that very likely coming from the 21st century that people would revert to this country-speak? Ditto that all the music anyone plays in the "good" part of town are folk songs from 150 years earlier. Does anyone in this day and age even KNOW songs from that time period? In the "bad" part of town Kunstler has them play versions of Metallica songs and Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit" to illustrate their evilness.
Kunstler seems to think that once we have no electricity, no fuel and no government we will focus on simpler pleasures and give up trying to have electricity, cars or theme restaurants and malls. I can safely say that is a total and utter crock.
Things in this world do not move backward - they go forward - always. If everything goes to hell in a hand-basket for this country or the world you better believe that there will be someone somewhere thinking - hey, I can make things BETTER. And they will. That is the indomitable human spirit.We pick up the pieces. We move on. We make things better.
Kunstler could have made this book better. Much better.
I wouldn't want to live in his idealized, homogenized white mans world. I'm just too much of an uppity, smartypants female full o' book learnin' who wouldn't be willing to whore herself to some bearded carpenter in exchange for "security". Anyway I wouldn't need it. I know how to use a gun as well as how to open up a can of whup-ass. In an old-timey times way of course.
on March 30, 2008
James Howard Kunstler, when he is on his "A" game, is a great writer. He can be provocative, irreverent, boisterous, yet hone in on largely obscure, but critically important truths at the same time.
"World Made by Hand" is not Kunstler's "A" effort. It is a novel and is Kunstler getting wierd, projecting perhaps his sexual fantasies of getting laid by other men's wives and widows, mixing it up with crazy religious cults out of hell, and killing to survive.
Killing to survive seems the most Kunstler-like concept out of the whole book. Who wants to hear about Alpha Male preachers leading itenerate flocks to funerals of strangers and taking over the religious services? I don't! Who wants to hear about middle aged men servicing their best friend's wife in order to keep morale up in a high stress environment? I don't. Who wants to hear almost everybody but the protagonist described as a flawed, inadequate loser? I don't! Who wants to learn the name of every herb and roadside flower that might be found in upstate New York, and the name of every folk tune that might be resurrected when radio and rock and roll is but a distant memory? I don't!
This book could be so much better if written by Kunstler at his best. Perhaps the pressure of creating a novel under some sort of deadline pressure forced Mr. Kunstler to get wierd in order to complete the book and he relied on his thesaurus and Farmer's Almanac for inspiration.
This book was a huge disappointment and I couldn't wait for it to end, despite desperately looking forward to it before my purchase.
Maybe the next effort will make up for this disaster.
on March 31, 2008
While "World Made By Hand" is a provocative attempt to fictionalize the future Kunstler laid out in "The Long Emergency", ultimately the story falls flat, hobbled with a poorly drawn plot and one-dimensional characters. The book's ending is rushed and leaves the reader hanging (it feels as though the novel was quite literally chopped in half) and I got the sense that Kunstler was more interested in coming up with vignettes illustrating "Long Emergency" factoids than with formulating a convincing narrative.
One could ignore WMBH's failings as fiction, post-apocalyptic or otherwise, and just read it as a series of short stories illustrating challenges facing a post-Peak Oil U.S., but the book can't even be enjoyed in this non-fictional sense, due to Kunstler's puzzling decision to include fantastical elements in the book (e.g., the bizarre Queen Bee character and the explicitly identical deaths). Neither of these is ever explained and the protagonist (as well as Kunstler himself) seems content to just shrug his shoulders and ask the reader to do the same.
It's a bit much to complain, as Kunstler does in "The Long Emergency" that Americans are living lives pervaded with fantasy and then turn around and write a novel of a Long Emergency future that is...pervaded with fantasy.
If you want a rational description of the challenges facing a post-Peak Oil America, don't waste your time with "World Made By Hand" - pick up "The Long Emergency" instead. If you want a well written (yet plausible) apocalyptic novel, look at "Oryx and Crake" or "The Road".
on March 20, 2008
Kunstler's writing style has been described as ¨brutally eloquent¨ and ¨semi-gonzo¨ and that is what I look for. There is no evidence of it in this book. It seems like a job done too fast, too shallowly. Some of the ideas are half-baked: this town has a gravity water system which becomes part of the plot; what comes in must go out, what happens to the sewage? They have no chemicals for the inflow, so they hardly have any for the outflow. Do they just dump it all downriver? Another oddity: they have zero news. Where are the traveling tradespeople simple America used to be so full of, bringing salt from the coast, and regional news? None of these forlorn smalltown folks had the wit to put in a few solar pannels or a crank radio? What happened to all the ham radio or community radio or pirate radio people so active in our own world, forgot to get microhydro?
There is tremendous sadness permeating the book, understandably, as people count their losses over and over. But where is the fury? These people inhabit the scrabbling world of Homo scavenger, as far into the future as they can see. Don't they ever rave at those culprits who plundered the previous world and brought on the collapse? The only person who does a minor angry riff gets murdered right after.
The book carefully avoids any deeper musings. We are told that farmer Bullock has ¨a comprehensive vision of what was going on in our society¨ but we are never told what it is, nor why people call him a ¨dangerous man.¨ And is ¨surviving in comfort¨ the only vision in this world? How is that different from today?
The women are all either wives or helpmeets (except for a disgusting prophetess), and we are told that ¨egalitarian pretenses¨ have dissolved. Nothing else. Ha! The men have abdicated any efforts on behalf of the town's management, but the womenfolk just think about sex and homemade wine. Dream on, Mr Kunstler!
And not one of these people has any reflection to offer regarding why their world unraveled, nor any ideas how to prevent similar mistakes in the future. They are longing for the amenities of yesteryear, and the sense I have at the end of the book is that they will spend their future trying to recreate them as much as they can. Sad, really, and a waste of an interesting imagined world.
Then, towards the end, the two intelligent protagonists do something really stupid, just to further the plot. I hate that. The best part of the book is about the food: it is so squeaky fresh it made my mouth water.