World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler. Suppose the oil ran out …

World Made by HandThe oil ran out but the cars still needed gas. The superpowers warred for the last of it, blowing up major cities. The lights went dark. Economies grinded to a halt. Epidemics broke out, killing many. Such is Kunstler’s vision of a post-oil future in World Made by Hand. “A fragment of the plastic Kmart sign remained bolted to the facade — the piece that said — art. The irony did not move me.” (10).

Despair makes sense for the people left behind. A few optimists are waiting for the ‘rough patch’ to end, but depression is chronic among the survivors in the town of Union Grove. The family of Robert Earle is dead, except for a missing son. The occasional flicker of the radio brings only doomsday preaching. Still, one cannot help but notice a few silver linings. People are outdoors, working the land for food again, converting their garages back to barns. The dump has become the town’s general supply. The church is doing better than it has in decades, having become the new community center. Robert and others gather weekly to play music. Life could be worse.

Unfortunately, it becomes so. Wayne Carp is head of the gang that runs the supply. One of his men commits a senseless murder. Justice collapsed with civilization, for crimes, but socially too, with women quickly deprecated back to second class, while men carry guns. It becomes clear that what is critically absent in this future is not natural resources or sophisticated technology, but justice; a lesson there.

Brother Jobe is leader of a radical religious group takes over the local high school. It is difficult to be sure of the implications of this group’s arrival. Jobe and his people seem decent, motivated to improve the town, and indeed they make a big difference in the outcome of the story, but at what price? Many threads are unravelled but unresolved in this story — Robert’s son, rumours of a newly elected President — but this fits for a community cut off from the larger world. Another thread is the brotherhood with bizarre elements that beg more explanation, perhaps in another book.

World Made by Hand is one title of an emerging genre that I call, ‘Scratch’, in the sense of making from scratch. It includes titles such as Drop City by T.C. Boyle and The Holding by Merilyn Simonds. The stories are about modern people who go back to the land. That is interesting it itself, but the setting is also a metaphor for a psychological journey, through our persona as modern citizens to our more authentic core. It is a quest for answers to important questions, like the value of justice over technology.

Related Links:

World Made by Hand website (includes great music and a book trailer)

Website of James Howard Kunstler, the author