Wednesday, February 12, 2014

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kuntsler

One-Sentence Summary: Following the nuclear holocaust, the residents of an isolated community in upstate New York face adversity and creeps of every background.

Subtitle: If we all work together, things will suck less

I have seen the future and it is sexist, but I think it's good to talk about the positive things in a book before getting to the finger-wagging. James Howard Kuntsler writes process beautifully. He has obviously spent many evenings in his smoking jacket, puffing smoke rings out over the rolling fields at sunset, thinking on how he will survive the inevitable demise of modern civilization. This novel sets itself apart from a long train of slap-dash dystopias by being conscious of nuance. What will we eat? How will we make it? How will we build, repair, and form relationships without our technological crutches? Union Grove unfolds as a post-apocalyptic community relearning innovation through hardship, forced from their individualistic hidey-holes by the arrival of the bizarre New Faith cult- I mean, fellowship- and the threats of vigilante communities both far off and on their own borders. Charismatic thugs and charismatic narcissists reign. Kuntsler leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the basics of survival, so often left unattended in dystopian literature. I respect him for that- also, for the idyllic pictures he paints of field to table feasts, for the dragonflies darting about in the dwindling sunlight as our hero walks back from a satisfying day of fishing. I would read this guy's non-fiction in a heartbeat.


For all of that attention to detail, this man could not write a convincing female character. Every woman in this story exists to make Robert, our main character and an emotionally sterile Nietzsche-esque Superman, more secure in his growing alpha-male role. Kuntsler is obviously one of those writers that regards writing women as writing another species entirely, strange and foreign. This approach results in one-dimensional, doe-eyed weirdos whose primary tool in the new society is the suppleness of their lady bits. At one point, a female character literally says something along the line of "Women aren't moral animals, Robert," after a roll in the hay (literally) that clearly sums up her entire purpose in life. We know this because she says it, stating that she would kill herself should her illicit trysts with HER HUSBAND'S BEST FRIEND be forced to come to an end. Somehow hardship and changes in the social climate forgive clearly immoral decision making in our much-put-upon male characters. How convenient. How desirable? I'm looking at you, Kuntsler.

Still, I would not saddle a book with the dreaded two stars for only a marked inability to write humans with believable emotions, oh no, not me. What mostly got me about World Made by Hand was the fact that the plot was stomped all over by sprees of self-indulgent world building. Kuntsler seemed to become aware that the story-line had gotten out of hand somewhere around the last 50 pages, when he appeared to give up and throw in several little plot cherry bombs (an obese cult leader/hive queen with seizures, mysticism surrounding Brother Job, a replacement family effective NOW) that completely sabotaged any hope of a coherent conclusion. I had so many unanswered questions that I was literally confused when the credits rolled (audiobookedly speaking, of course) and the whole thing ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I would almost be tempted to read the sequel, The Witch of Hebron, just to see if some of my questions get answered.


Aside: This is my first audiobook in YEARS and I will discuss that in its own post, because that topic deserves one. 

1 comment:

  1. I don't tend to venture out of YA but when I do, it won't be with this book. Male authors that write female characters like that annoy me to NO END. Characters are really important but world building is too, especially in a dystopia.