World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler

Synopsis:
The world has moved on, thanks to climate change, a worldwide oil shortage, and population devastation from superbugs, and in one small corner of New York State, the world is being rebuilt by hand.

Review:
Anyone who spends much time with me will eventually learn that I am obsessed with The Long Emergency, one of World Made By Hand author James Kunstler’s non-fiction treatises. I have always been drawn to the apocalyptic, and now that I am a mother I can worry about the world my daughter will inherit.

World Made By Hand is filled with Kunstlerisms–imagery and expressions that are familiar to anyone who has read his books or spent any time on his blog. He is always at his best when conjuring a decaying post-automobile America, where the suburbs are blighed ghettos and big box stores crumble without power to heat and cool them. The novel is a great introduction to the ideas that obsess Kunstler (and his acolytes, myself included), yet it’s far more hopeful than any of his jeremiads.

The protagonist of World Made By Hand is Robert, who once worked in corporate America, and who now finds himself mayor of an ersatz community in upstate New York. His townspeople just want to get by, but they’re caught between an encroaching band of religious fanatics, and a mini-despot who may have aggressively nefarious intentions towards the town. After a young man is murdered, Robert finds himself at the center of an ancient kind of conflict in a new world that looks like an old one.

I was not expecting World Made By Hand to be as lyrical as it is. If I didn’t know Kunstler’s non-fiction, I’d be taken by the poetry of many of the passages. However, as much as I was tickled to be in on Kunstler’s auto-intertextuality, it distracted me from engaging with the story. That won’t stop me from recommending it–I think it’s more accurate a picture of our future as anything found in the Jetsons!

13 thoughts on “World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler”

  1. What did you think of some of the other apocalyptic novels?

    Wolf and Iron – Gordon R. Dickson
    The Postman – David Brin (the book, *not* the movie..)
    the venerable Lucifer’s Hammer – Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

    Maureen F. McHugh’s near-apocalypse, China Mountain Zhang. China buys the US when the US goes bankrupt because of the runaway national debt. China Mountain Zhang is the name of the hero, struggling because he isn’t upper class – that is, born native Chinese.

    And with a similar premise, John Dalmas’s The General’s President. Congress passes two amendments – repudiating the national debt, and revoking the government’s authority to levy taxes. A business man from Northern Minnesota ends up in the Oval Office and maneuvers the nation to survival and recovery.

  2. I haven’t read those, Brad–they sound right up my alley. I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s The Stand pkus you’ll find some other reviews by clicking the “post-apocalyptic” tag above.

  3. It’s always interesting when an author jumps genres, although I guess this fiction isn’t so far off from Kunstler’s non-fiction. Glad to hear you liked it though. 🙂

  4. What did you think of his treatment of women characters? I was reading a review on Sharon O’s website (Causabon’s Book) and she was pretty harsh about it.

    I love his blog–he doesn’t hold back.

    But hey – where is George Eliot on your list of top twenty books? Middlemarch? Is there a better book ever written?

  5. Robyn–I don’t know that blog. Can you post a link? The women were not as nuanced as I would like to see, but I didn’t find them objectionable. He definitely romanticizes women.

    I love his blog, too, though it keeps me up at night.

    Middlemarch–oh, yes, what a splendid book. I considered putting Eliot in my A to Z meme list, but I wanted to have a diverse list and I could’ve been really heavy on the classics.

  6. Sorry, I was being vague about the website because she just changed it, and she is Sharon A not Sharon O (my very imperfect memory!). Anyway, here is her website:

    http://sharonastyk.com/

    I love it! (and if you have a little time on your hands, try searching, if you can, for an article about the Mommy Wars. Her take on it is really wonderful. If I find it, I will forward it to you).

  7. I agree with the poetry of this book. I had to read it for a class and I am so happy I did. What did you think of the ending..about the New Faith’s “Queen Bee” and the super powers of Brother Jobe?

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