Kunstler, James Howard. World Made by Hand.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy post-apocalyptic novels and imagining how civilized society would cope with the loss of the technology we take for granted. Forget about computers, telephones, television, and our instant communication and entertainment luxuries and think about water and electricity. Neither of these would be automatically available with the turn of a tap or flip of the switch.
Kunstler imagines a world that has learned to cope (as best it can) with the loss of technology in the aftermath of several rather vague disasters including bombings, loss of access to oil, financial and governmental collapse, and a deadly flu pandemic (oddly enough, called the Mexican Flu).
The small town of Union Grove in upstate New York is one of the isolated communities trying to function after having lost most of their conveniences and a high per centage of their population. The protagonist, Robert Earle seems pretty well-adjusted to the state of things, although even he misses the occasional cold beer.
When a group called the New Faith order arrives in town, Robert and Union Grove must begin further adjustments. Here is where the novel becomes unpredictable (in several ways). Brother Jobe, the leader of the New Faith group, throws several wrenches into the town's ways of thinking and doing things. In spite of his namesake, the original Job, Brother Jobe doesn't seem to be suffering any more, and actually, considerably less, than any other survivor.
In addition to the fact that the New Faith people add an unpredictable factor into the events, there is an unpredictable aspect or atmosphere in the feel of the novel. Initially, Brother Jobe's arrival feels ominous, adding a sense of dread. Then there is an almost comical feel to the presence of the group and its members. At times, the group seems perfectly normal. This ominous/normal emotional charge moves back and forth about the kind of changes the group represents for the citizens of Union Grove.
Although I was a little nitpicky about some of the post-apocalyptic details, the first of the book was pretty interesting. However, toward the end, things got downright weird. Some supernatural stuff kind of crept in without ever being explained. It was as if Kunstler was going somewhere with several strange events, and then decided to leave them hanging.
Many of the characters, especially the women, had little development, and the novel's direction never seemed quite clear to me. Quite a few events, characters, and situations were introduced without attempt at resolution:
-why the emphasis on the young woman accompanying Brother Jobe when he arrived in town, to have her appear only once more and without emphasis?
-why did Brother Jobe feel Bullock was a dangerous man?
-why was Bullock's industry so questionable? (he seemed the one most capable of building a future, but the author appears to frown on him)
-both Bullock and Brother Jobe are leaders, does the author favor Brother Jobe?
-what the heck with the bee hive analogy?--boy, was that left hanging!
-and the prophecy?
-why was the treatment of Loren so brutal and of Robert so mild?
-what about the mystery of Brother Jobe and the jail cell?
-Bridget and Jane Ann?
There was never a point that I wanted to put the book down, but there was never a point that I didn't have questions. None of them were answered.
I'm glad I read the book because it has provided several days of pondering, not only about what was going on in the novel, but about the adjustments society would have to make to survive if society's infrastructure collapsed. Not just the physical difficulties of food and water and basic survival, but in social organization, how would isolated societies function?
In many ways, this was a pretty positive look at the future, at least in comparison to The Road, Alas, Babylon, Lucifer's Hammer, and I, Legend.
I could have sworn I read something about this novel on one of the blogs I visit frequently, but I couldn't find it.
Do you have a favorite post-apocalytic novel?
Other Reviews: Where There's a Will..., Reading Is My Superpower, Sublime Oblivion, Fizzy Thoughts, The Indextrious Reader
Fiction. Futuristic/Post-Apocalypse. 2008. 317 pages.