"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, San Francisco Chronicle
"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, O, The Oprah Magazine
In his previous book, celebrated social commentator James Howard Kunstler explored how the age of globalization and mankind's explosive progress over the last two hundred years was based on the availability of cheap fossil fuels. He observed that the terminal decline of oil production, combined with the perils of climate change, had the potential to put industrial civilization out of business. A tremendous success, The Long Emergency sold over 100,000 copies and cemented Kunstler's place as an important voice in the debate on our country's future. His latest book, the critically acclaimed World Made by Hand, is an astonishing work of speculative fiction that brings to life what America might be, a few decades hence. For the townspeople of Union Grove, New York, the future is nothing like they thought it would be. After the catastrophes converged--the end of oil, climate change, resource wars, and global pandemics--they are doing whatever they can to get by. Transportation is slow and dangerous, so food is grown locally at great expense of time and energy, and the outside world is largely unknown. There may be a president, and he may be in Minneapolis now, but people aren't sure. Their challenges play out in a dazzling, fully realized world of abandoned highways and empty houses, horses working the fields and rivers, no longer polluted, and replenished with fish. With the cost of oil skyrocketing--and with it the price of food--Americans are increasingly aware of the possibility of the long emergency. Kunstler's extraordinary book, a novel full of love and loss, violence and power, sex and drugs, depression and desperation, but also plenty of hope, is sure to find many new readers in paperback.
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.)
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January 05, 2009
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Excerpt from World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler
We came to Union Grove, Sandy's home town, after the bomb went off in Los Angeles. That act of jihad was extraordinarily successful. It tanked the whole U.S. economy. The authorities finally had to start inspecting every shipping container that entered every harbor in the nation. The freighters anchored for weeks off Seattle, Norfolk, Baltimore, the Jersey terminals, Boston, and every other port of entry. Many of them eventually turned around and went back to their nation of origin with their cargoes undelivered. The earth stopped being flat and became very round again.
I was thirty-six then. We sold the house in Brookline at a substantial loss just to get out. We dumped the big BMW and kept the sedan. You could still get gasoline, though it was very expensive and the scarcities were worsening. We wanted to be as far away from the action as we could get without leaving the northeast. Sandy's father was alive then, a retired vice president of the nearby Glens Falls National Bank. Pneumonia took Bill two years after we arrived. Common antibiotics were in short supply. In a way, I was glad he went before Sandy and Genna and everything else that happened, because it would have broken his heart. He was absolutely a man of the twentieth century. His last coherent words, in the delirium of illness, were, "Don't worry, I'll bring the car around. . . ."