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In a 'World Made by Hand,' Kunstler Reassures

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In a 'World Made by Hand,' Kunstler Reassures

Book Reviews

In a 'World Made by Hand,' Kunstler Reassures

In a 'World Made by Hand,' Kunstler Reassures

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James Howard Kunstler's most recent social commentaries have pointed to mayhem — ranging from bad surburban planning to how the loss of cheap oil might unravel the way we live. But his latest work — a return to fiction — offers a bit of reassurance.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

James Howard Kunstler began writing fiction decades ago, but then turned to social criticism, writing about energy crises and urban collapse. In his latest work, "World Made By Hand," Kunstler returns to fiction.

And Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE: We begin in Union Grove, New York, and a few decades along into the new century. Terrorist bombs have destroyed a number of big cities, and the oil supply has run out. But Robert Earle, protagonist of the book, doesn't feel it does any good to look back at all that's been lost.

Earle is a software executive turned carpenter, and he's somehow come to terms with the loss of his family to the disaster that America has become. He even manages to enjoy a world without electricity and gasoline, given the fact that Union Grove has running water drawn by gravity from the nearby Hudson River. He's got a mistress, too, in the wife of the local minister. And he ekes out a comfortable living as a fisherman and a handyman.

The tranquility was pleasing, he tells us at the outset of his story, despite what it signified about what had happened to our society. Of course, things don't remain tranquil for long. Earle soon finds himself a witness to a murder that the Union Grove inhabitants are almost wholly incapable of dealing with. He then takes a dangerous trip on horseback to search for some men who've gone missing in Albany, which Earle describes as having reverted to a frontier town.

The stakes rise ever higher when Earle's Union Grove friends elect him mayor, placing him in a world of pain. Things in Union Grove always seem to get worse before they improve, and society never returns to the heyday of yesterday. But in the end, Kunstler's brilliant cautionary fiction convinces us that this brave new world, a world made by hand, just might prove as pleasing and unpredictable as our own. And that, that is no small feat of reassurance.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: The novel is "World Made By Hand," by James Howard Kunstler. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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