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World Made by Hand: A Novel Paperback – January, 2009
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"Kunstler's emotional understanding places the book well outside the confines of genre fiction." -- Eve Ottenberg
"Superb ... an extraordinary, suspenseful, deeply affecting yarn that very successfully weaves together elements of science fiction, the Western, and even magical realism.... Read this book." -- Reihan Salam
"Kunstler's storytelling talents are in evidence here.... Kunstler has punctuated the nightmarish scenario of his novel with ... poignant moments where hope and despair vie for dominance of the human spirit." -- Bharti Kirchner
"Within the first few pages of James Howard Kunstler's poignant, provocatively convincing novel set in a future possibly as near as tomorrow, you find yourself musing: could this happen to me? By the end, you're wondering not could, but when?" -- Alan Weisman
"Far from a typical postapocalyptic novel. It caters neither to a pseudo-morbid nor faddishly slick vision of the future. Though grim with portent, it is ultimately, as Camus's novel The Plague, an impassioned and invigorating tale whose ultimate message is one of hope, not despair." -- Michael Leone
"Unlike the bleakness of style and subject in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Kunstler's World Made by Hand Is an end-of-days novel that is more a pleasure than a burden to read; it frightens without becoming ridiculously nightmarish, it cautions without being too judgmental, and it offers glimmers of hope we don't have to read between the lines to comprehend." -- Zak M. Salih
"What's after armageddon? No government, no laws, no infrastructure, no oil, no industry . . . and sometimes a sense of relief. In Kunstler's richly imagined World Made by Hand, the bone-weary denizens of Union Grove (with its echo of Our Town's Grover's Corners) cope with everything from mercenary thugs to religious extremists, yet manage to plant a few seeds of human decency that bear fruit." -- Cathleen Medwick
"Kunstler segues from his analysis of the possible effects of a decline in oil production on modern Industrial society to a full-blown, and artfully carried out, semidystopic dramatization of what small-town American life might be like in the wake of major terrorist bombings and industrial decline on U.S. soil.... But in the end, the beauty of Kunstler's brilliant cautionary fiction, aside from the charming narrative with its many convincing details of life after apocalypse, is that most readers will admit that Earle's world, the world made by hand ... sounds at least as unpredictably pleasing as our own." -- Alan Cheuse
"The verisimilitude of Kunstler's world leads me to think the future is Union Grove. Thirty years from now, it will be interesting to see if that little town seems excessively sad, richly luxurious, or spot on. But for now, I'm hedging my bets. Where I live, one block east of ground zero, I've started keeping a compost bin and am thinking about adding a micro wind generator. [Nearby] the Freedom Tower has just emerged above ground and may one day be full of Investment bankers. Recently, though, I've started looking at that plot through Kunstler's eyes. It gets good sunlight, and it occurs to me it would make a hell of a bean field." -- Paul Greenberg
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Union Grove, NY is a small community struggling to survive in the aftermath of an economic collapse which catalyzed a government collapse, which made everyone vulnerable to flu and encephalitis that dramatically reduced the population. No electricity, no public works to maintain roads, no social safety net whatsoever. So in rural Union Grove, they farm as much as they can, and make everything by hand, hence the title. Kunstler is a surprisingly great fiction writer considering his nonfiction background--not just in terms of the prose, which a nonfiction writer must master anyhow, but in terms of the interesting plotting and the fascinating characters. Because of course several "interim" power structures crop up--some gangsterism, some graft, some religious zealots, and some ordinary townsfolk who would like to try and make everything fair. Kunstler throws all of these personalities in a town together, and we see what shakes out.
I was especially fascinated by the character of Jobe, the leader of the cultish religious sect that moves into town. Of course, you don't trust him, and fear that he's going to try and convert everybody, and he does a bit of this, but Jobe is a much more complex character than you'd expect, and Kunstler totally subverted my expectations of him.
My only complaint, and I always get down votes on Amazon when I mention this but bring it on, is the female characters. I'm sorry, I have to call "mantasy" when I see it. Of the four-ish female characters who have speaking lines, each one throws herself at the narrator at some point. Each female character is either desolate with grief, or in need of protection. It's unheard of in this "future" for women to live alone, for them to do anything other than domestic work. And they're all hungry for the narrator. Commence longest eye roll ever. Don't get me wrong--I can see certain parts of this prediction making sense--division of labor is one of the most important ways to hang together as a community, and the scarcer resources are (and it's hard to have babies here because of environmental contaminants), the more you want to protect your women. I get it. That DOESN'T mean that every woman would be content to sit back and make jam. That not a single woman would volunteer for the city council. That not a single woman would prefer to live alone (or, gasp, with another woman), and use her guns for protection, rather than taking up with a man twenty years older than she, and eventually showing up naked in his bed. That not a single woman would be an entrepreneur. COME ON! Kunstler's apparent lack of thought about women other than as sexual objects to be cosseted is alarming, because obviously as a writer who makes predictions for a living, this is what he really thinks about us.
Enjoyable read, if you can ignore all of that.
I wish the wonderful children I've watched grow up and enter college would read this series, they are mostly embarking on careers that are not likely to exist 5-20 years from now. I'll have to hope they manage to live in a good area, since that's going to be one of many factors in getting through the bottleneck.
I had heard some brouhaha about how women were depicted in this book, but that is all the more reason for this series to be included in women's studies at universities. Women need to think about how they can maintain their hard-won equality.
In my opinion, I do not think women are going to be equal in a future world where might makes right and men are more valued for the ability to do labor and fight. Women will have no birth control, and once again be consigned to child rearing, have less higher education, or interesting careers than now. Of course, the way some of the presidential candidates are talking, women's rights could disappear long before peak oil, coal, and natural gas bring on an ecological crash.