Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"World Made By Hand", James Howard Kunstler

Reading another post-apocalyptic novel: "World Made By Hand". What's with that? This one is much less bleak, although somewhat more haunting in its plausibility. The author is James Howard Kunstler.

I'm about 75% done. I still am a little dark as to how it is going to end. Quite engaging. The characters are complex and interesting.

So far, the most compelling theme is that when societal constraints are removed, we revert back to traditional forms: agriculturally-based, traditional gender roles, etc... For example, the first person narrator comments that all on the town council are males who aren't "serfs" in the community. The women work hard, but are protected by the men. When a husband dies, the wife and children are taken in, even by a single man, who will protect her/family. One wealthy man is determined to remain comfortable in his wealth, so he has turned his estate into a medieval manor; he is the lord, and hiw workers are the serfs. He provides safety, food and shelter in exhange for performing work on his estate. The importance of beauty is another theme. As life is bleak, hard and unforgiving, and there is no electronic entertainment to divert ones mind, the people of this small village have put effort into their gardens and homes. The one church is very important to community life, and as such, is very well-maintained. When members of this community venture out beyond their immediate township, they realize that what they have is very special and unique: the rest of society has tanked.

Strip malls, suburbs and the mobile society are irrelevant. Large cities are violent pits of despair and desolation. Small, rural, interdependent communities are the only chance for any sort of positive life.

Do I know enough to maintain a home without electrity, refrigeration, running water, a grocery store? Would I be able to educate, train and entertain my children? Would we thrive or just get by?

There are aspects of the book that are bothersome:

Some social conventions seem to have disintegrated. Marriage is still an institution, however, for reproductive purposes (due to radiation, illness, communicable diseases, etc.) women and men often seek other than their spouse for "service". "Religion" (vocal Christians specifically) are all portrayed as either hypocrites or absolute nut jobs, but to be fair, so are pagans and atheists...it's the sort of nominally "pious" people who are the "normal" ones. (Is this accurate? Maybe....) The clergy in this book all swear, get drunk and are morally loose or "look the other way".

Life is bleak, and food is basic, but in this town, not hard to come by, but still basic. The people welcome any sort of intoxication. I think it is a form of entertainment and escape for the townspeople. Pot grows wild; people cultivate poppies; doctors use these to create their only forms of anaesthesia -- interesting. Distilled spirits, wine, ales and other beverages are commonplace and valued. However, they don't just intoxicate themselves into oblivion every night...just sometimes.

It is kill or be-killed. There is a sense of justice, but no formal framework to maintain or pursue justice or the upholding of the law.

Okay, the next book I read is going to be happy, happy, joy, joy...

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