Sunday, April 13, 2008

Book Review: World Made By Hand

I haven’t done a book review yet, but World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler was something I couldn’t put down when I was in Boston. I knew nothing about the author, who wrote the non-fiction book The Long Emergency, about what happens to the world when oil runs out. Well in World Made By Hand he crafts the answer. The world looks like a cross between the 19th century wild west and a Stephen King’s The Stand (with maybe a little first-season Jericho thrown-in. Actually this was the direction I had hoped Jericho would have followed...)

The protagonist of the book is Robert Earle, a widowed former software executive-turned carpenter living in a Union Grove, New York. The novel takes place about a decade or so after a few nuclear bombs went out, followed by a plague, and suddenly everyone is still readjusting to the new world, which looks a lot like the old one, one with a early-to-bed-early-to-rise workaday existence. (Because the only light is provided by candles and the only labor is done by hand, or maybe by ploughshare pulled by horses, if you are lucky enough to afford a horse.)

Kunstler knows how to paint a vivid portrait of this new world. I loved the descriptions (and explanations) of what is the purpose of a summer kitchen. And reemergence of docks as river trade is one of the only connections to life outside Union Grove. The author is good at making you fully miss the depravations the characters do, like airplanes and sugar. (They get excited about sorghum being planted).

The Stephen King side of the story is that a new religious cult moves into the town’s old high school. Very late in the novel there is a Neo-meets-The-Oracle scene which opens up a world of possibilities for the future. The only problem with the book is that is lazy in tracing a plot, as the author is much more interested in examining every detailed corner of this new world. But because those details are so interesting one doesn’t mind the long parts that read like Laura Ingalls Wilder (there’s even a barn dance).

In the end a World Made By Hand is the kind of place where I love to visit vicariously through fiction, but, despite what I can see as a certain appeal, I don’t want to live there. However I would love to spend more time in Kunstler’s world and I’m hoping he’ll write a sequel.


Anonymous said... fiction. One of my favs.

I'll try to read the book.

Or, maybe you could loan it to me when you visit my neck of the woods....

Anonymous said...

I saw Kunstler speak after his book on suburban sprawl came out. While he certainly had some decent points, he was so pessimistic, his talk was not well received. I remember the Cleveland State audience being very harsh with him.

I miss Jericho already, but Season 2 was largely a disappointment.

Jim in Cleveland