The World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler, published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 2008 is a work of post-apocalyptic fiction, that doesn’t quite feel apocalyptic.
In some of the post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read, humans become cannibalistic, preying upon others, reverting to an animal-like state. Or perhaps, more appropriately, worse than animal state, considering the ability to reason the choices they make to harm or not to harm others. In The Road by Cormac McCarthy, we read about humans at their worst, disabling and hording fellow humans in basements and chopping off pieces of their bodies as needed.
You won’t find that kind of grisly reality in World Made by Hand. In fact, it feels more like a romanticized version of pre-industrial America, in which women needed the strong arms of their male counterparts to get anything done. They cooked and cleaned and avoided politics at all costs. No, you won’t find women on the city council of Union Grove.
Industrial civilization has come to an end, the government has shut down, bombs have been dropped across the United States and a flu epidemic has wiped out a good portion of the population. But in small pockets throughout the country, communities survive.
The story is told by Robert Earle, the town carpenter. Through the lens of this middle-aged male, who has no shortage of wanton females requesting his company, we read a hero-adventure story, with Earle becoming the town hero (and the mayor).
The story is well-written. Great pacing, with plot points in places they should be; just in time to keep the reader from getting bored. Character dialogue is well-done. But the swaggering clichéd bad guy, ex-biker, the religiosity and male-centric view appears more as a male fantasy made post-apocalyptic.
Like a bunch of guy friends roughing it for the weekend. Given, Robert Earle is made into a sensitive type who dislikes using his firearm and killing a man who was shooting at him, but near the end Kunstler gives into temptation and Earle does a swaggering hero scene in which he threatens to kill the bad guy, but in a sensitive way.
“I’m going to see if the Reverend Holder survives what you did to him.”
“And if he don’t, you going to kill me?”
“Pretty much, I’m thinking.”
“And then I s’pose you’d say I was trying to break out or some shit, right?”
“Something like that…”
Throw in a several religious christian hymns, a ‘Mother’ of a local religious cult who can see the future and the unexplained death of a bad guy with the same markings of death as one of his victims and though the mystery is never followed up, it’s something for the population of Union Grove to ponder for years.
I would recommend the book, because it is a good read. An example of good writing, but not for those who don’t feel like visiting a male-centric jaunty romp through the fall of civilization.