Thursday, April 09, 2009
In The Long Emergency celebrated social commentator James Howard Kunstler explored how the terminal decline of oil production, combined with climate change, had the potential to put industrial civilization out of business. In World Made by Hand, an astonishing work of speculative fiction, Kunstler brings to life what America might be, a few decades hence, after these catastrophes converge. For the townspeople of Union Grove, New York, the future is nothing like they thought it would be. 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—Kunstler’s extraordinary book, full of love and loss, violence and power, sex and drugs, depression and desperation, but also plenty of hope, is more relevant than ever.
I really like the concept of this book. After war, the loss of oil, and disease ravage the United States, the residents of Union Grove have reverted to an agrarian society. Without electricity, their lives are intensely physical. In order to survive, the residents of Union Grove will need to learn to rely on each other and band together to keep their town from falling apart. The book is not as depressing as it sounds, and the reader is left with a feeling of hope at the end. However, there were a few things that bothered me that I just can’t let go of.
- The bad guys were the stereotypical biker gang, albeit without bikes. They were tattooed and played songs by Nirvana and Metallica. Our hero, on the other hand, played folk music and spirituals (in fact, I couldn’t help but think of the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? as I read this book…it seemed very appropriate). It was very obvious that someone does not like rock, or even alternative, music. As one character states after listening to a rendition of the Nirvana song "Smells Like Teen Spirit": “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world could just forget some of those really awful songs?”
- It was often hard to ignore the fact that the author has an agenda. It’s obvious that he sees this future as having a good chance of happening, especially in the early parts of the book when he reflects on the world that was. It gets a bit tiresome.
- Mary Beth Ivanhoe, the “precious mother” of the New Faithers, the cult-like group that comes to town. What the HELL was her purpose in the book?!? She isn’t mentioned until the last part of the book, and even then she only gets a few pages. The whole scene was weird and out of place, and I don’t get it. And don’t even get me started on the hives.
- Jane Ann. Jane Ann is the wife of Loren, the town’s pastor and Robert’s best friend. Robert being our main character. Jane Ann and Loren seem to be husband and wife in name only, and Jane Ann turns to Robert for sexual comfort. That was a little weird, too…and at the end, something’s going on with Jane Ann, but do we find out what? No. Everyone else got an ending, but not Jane Ann. Actually, Mary Beth didn’t either, but since she only popped in for a brief howdy, that I can understand.
Obviously, someone needs to read this book so they can enlighten me on a few things. Despite my quibbling over some disturbing tendencies, it’s not at all a bad book. Or a downer. It’s an interesting proposal for our future. It’ll also make you want to learn a bit about cooking, gardening, and homeopathy…you know, just in case.