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World Made by Hand: A Novel Paperback – January, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Kunstler's name is mostly associated with nonfiction works like The Long Emergency, a bleak prediction of what will happen when oil production no longer meets demand, and the antisuburbia polemic The Geography of Nowhere. In this novel, his 10th, he visits a future posited on his signature idea: when the oil wells start to run dry, the world economy will collapse and society as we know it will cease. Robert Earle has lost his job (he was a software executive) and family in the chaos following the breakdown. Elected mayor of Union Grove, N.Y., in the wake of a town crisis, Earle must rebuild civil society out of squabbling factions, including a cultish community of newcomers, an established group of Congregationalists and a plantation kept by the wealthy Stephen Bullock. Re-establishing basic infrastructure is a big enough challenge, but major tension comes from a crew of neighboring rednecks led by warlord Wayne Karp. Kunstler is most engaged when discussing the fate of the status quo and in divulging the particulars of daily life. Kunstler's world is convincing if didactic: Union Grove exists solely to illustrate Kunstler's doomsday vision. Readers willing to go for the ride will see a frightening and bleak future. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"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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I deducted one star from an excellently written book due to what I think is a great underestimation on the author's part of the level of violence and need for self-defense in such a disrupted society. Granted, many books in the post-apocalypse genre are TOO focused on weapons and violence and lack good writing or character development. So Kunstler is a refreshing perspective from that. But I think he assumes too much about how peacefully people will interact and how infrequent thugs will prowl on the "civil". Yes, 90% of people would likely mind their own business or work together for survival and progress. But a violent 10% can be very disruptive to overall life and daily actions. I think Kunstler is more interested in the post-industrial pastoral lifestyle that might emerge, rather than the details of the breakdown and resultant violence. If I could I would give this 4.7 stars.
PROS: Story line, character development, editing, thoughtful perspective. Very interesting story whether you agree with his societal collapse possibility or not.
CONS (minor): Under estimates threat level after break down of government and infrastructure.
The characterizations are uniformly good, also. The white hats and the black hats and the gray hats are all well wrought and given good reasons and motivations for doing what they do and being who they are. I also enjoyed the misdirection of the author in presenting us with a villain who is not really a villain, at all. Excellent touch!
What I did not like about it was the lame and facetious reasoning for the immediate, sudden, and overwhelming collapse of not just the economic world, but also the cohesion of society at large. The "jihadists" did it? Really? That's the best Kunstler could do? And all of this the result of two nuclear detonations? Come on!
Also, the addition of a supernatural element right at the end of the novel was somewhat jarring and unnecessary. It was like reading THE SUN ALSO RISES and suddenly King Kong appears in the final chapter. (Not that I'm comparing Kunstler to Hemingway, mind you. Just saying how incongruous the plot element was within the context of the story.)
I've been reading his stuff online for a long time; he is one hell of a writer/storyteller.
A writer knows the craft (grammar, punctuation, clarity, etc.); a storyteller has a great story. Kunster does both--has a story and tells it well. Wish I could afford the next ones.