Dec 17, 2018

World Made by Hand

by James Howard Kunstler

Post-apocalyptic fiction that felt pretty realistic (as far as I can guess)- until I got to the last few chapters. It's set in time a decade after an oil crises, severe economic collapse, bombings of LA and DC and a widespread flu virus that erased most of the population. The small upstate NY community in the novel is isolated from the outside world- modern conveniences that ran on electricity or anything made by large corporations is gone, medicine is rudimentary, government services no longer exist, people get by doing manual labor, growing crops, spending all their time making what they need to survive. In some areas people live in near-starvation and squalor, many suffer or just plain go crazy. I found interesting the ideas about what aspects of our current way of life would remain- and what things would disappear or becoming obsolete immediately. The author portrayed people falling back into an agrarian society where men basically ruled and women worked in the home. There were few women portrayed in the book and I rather felt sorry for their condition and lack of choices. Who knows if it would really turn out this way. Also the uprising of religious fervor, which becomes key to the story arc in this book.

There's a wealthy man who sets up a huge plantation-like operation, putting other people- desperate for a stable living situation- into basically serfdom or slavery. There's a group of thugs who commandeer the landfill and mine it for useful materials, trading them to the townspeople at extortion rates. There's a religious group that moves in and takes up residence in the empty school building, living in secretive, cult-like conditions. And our main character is a man who just works day to day to sustain himself, until he realizes the town is slowly crumbling- so he goes on a downriver trip to find some missing men, he galvanizes others to fix their water system (luckily they have a reservoir at higher elevation, so it still functions with gravity), he gets involved in an attempt to bring justice to some misdeeds in town (ranging from murder and theft to the religious group forcibly cutting off other men's beards!) Most of the narrative proceeds at a quiet, musing pace (in spite of the lawlessness and violence)- with reflections on what has been lost to the past, while noting the emptiness of parking lots and strip malls, the rising abundance of fish and insect life. But at the end it takes a weird turn, with inexplicable happenings that are never explained and the hint of magic or spiritual influence was so unlike the rest of the story, it rather put me off. I suppose it was useful to spark some to follow the book into its sequel, but it killed interest for me. Just felt too strange.

Rating: 3/5                 317 pages, 2008

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Stefanie said...

Too bad the weird ending kind of ruins the story. It sounded pretty good until then!

Jeane said...

Well, on the whole I liked the story, but the turn at the end dissipated my interest in continuing into the sequel- because I suppose it is going to delve further in that direction.

Jeane said...

I keep thinking about this- so i came back to mention it. There's a part in the book where the main character has a dream of floating across a landscape- it feels very surreal to him until he realizes from further details, that he's in a car. A common thing to us, but how strange and magical it seemed to a person who had lived with only foot and horse transportation for decades.