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Literature / World Made by Hand

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2008 post-apocalyptic novel by James Howard Kunstler, depicting a future in which American civilization as we knew it was destroyed by a long, drawn-out combination of factors. There were nuclear terrorist attacks in such major cities as Los Angeles (which caused trade to slow to a near halt as international cargo was painstakingly inspected in the following months) and Washington D.C. (which destroyed most of the government at once), political unrest, disease pandemics, and most uniquely, a complete end to oil, gas, and other such fossil fuels. This is the key focus of the book since Kuntsler believes in peak fact, the novel is basically a fictional look at life in the future Kuntsler posited in his earlier non-fiction book The Long Emergency. Needless to say, without fossil fuels, life regresses back to a survival state.

In the fall of 2010, the sequel The Witch of Hebron was released. It is set several months after the first novel, in late October. The setting is no longer quite as restricted: while there is no journey as long as the one to Albany, towns like Glens Falls, Argyle, and Hebron are featured, while others such as Bennington and Plattsburgh are mentioned a few times. Unlike the first book, which was narrated in the first person by Union Grove resident Robert Earle, it is told from a third-person omniscient perspective. It allows Kuntsler to explore a greater variety of narratives at once, many of which seem to be unrelated but eventually come together at the conclusion. Arguably, it contains a few more ridiculous or implausible elements than the first book, which depending on perspective can be seen as either spoiling the down-to-earth nature of the setting or providing some harmless fun.

List of Tropes in World Made by Hand:

  • A World Half Full: Just look at the title...despite everything that's happened to America, the relatively hopeful note on which the book ends suggests that if you live in a small rural town with a strong community and know how to make do without electricity or fossil fuels (that is to say, if you've been following Kuntsler's plans for how to survive the apocalypse as laid out in The Long Emergency), you should be fine.
  • After the End: The book is all about one upstate New York man's life in his small rural town. Contrary to the main page for this trope, upstate New York in this book does not even remotely resemble Australia after the apocalyptic events. As well, there are some indications that things may improve, as trade boats begin to bring products such as salt or even coffee down the river and newspapers- carrying news only about New York State, however- begin to appear.
  • Anachronism Stew: Invoked deliberately by the author. The reader is supposed to feel disjointed when he or she is reading about rusted cars and strip malls in the same chapter as horse-drawn carts and women wearing skirts down to their ankles. Also invoked in-universe by Stephen Bullock when he serves hamburgers and hotdogs at the levee. This is also done deliberately to make his guests long for the "old-timey-times" and believe that they can get a sliver of them back at Bullock's farm.
  • Apocalypse How: A rather gentle Class 1, since only L.A. and Washington are nuked. The majority of deaths are due to diseases that run their natural course and the fact that, without oil from agriculture and industry, the previous population numbers cannot be maintained.
  • Bury Your Gays: The first and only LGBT character in the series is Angel, the MtF transgender prostitute in Glens Falls in the second book. She is brutally beaten to death by Billy Bones less than 24 hours after first being introduced in the story.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: This trope is basically the essence of Kuntsler's world, a simple but pleasant place with strong communities and lush, unpolluted landscapes. Yes, life is hard and people die, and things are apparently much less pleasant in other parts of America, but it's not bad on the whole. To this end, some reviewers see the book as Kuntsler's view of a world he'd prefer to the one we live in today.
  • Crazy-Prepared: As if we couldn't tell already from his lavish estate in the first book, Stephen Bullock takes this a step further in the second. When a bunch of would-be bandits break into his house and hold him and his wife at gunpoint one night, it is revealed that the house has a klaxon alarm triggered by an inconspicuous pull cord behind the curtains in the master bedroom and that Bullock has a freakin' katana hidden in an umbrella stand, which he uses to kill the three bandits in short order.
  • Divided States of America: Anything resembling the coherent United States vanished years before the beginning of the novel. Even the states themselves don't really have collective identities, though geographic town and state boundaries are still somewhat adhered to.
  • Gaia's Lament: It is revealed that dogs have been eaten by hungry people during the flu.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Robert and Loren have shades of this.
  • IKEA Erotica: Kunstler's sex scenes are a little...forgettable.
    • They don't get much better in the second book, which arguably contains even more sex.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: In the second book, we see that Stephen Bullock has one hidden in his umbrella stand. It appears in exactly one scene, where he swiftly uses it to kill three bandits that are holding him at gunpoint...two are decapitated entirely. Either one of the most awesome moments in the story or the stupidest...
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The main setting of the book, Union Grove, does not exist. It also would seem to be not quite geographically possible, because the way it is described in relation to rivers like the Battenkill and the Hudson doesn't make sense when you look at a map. (The descriptions seem to get more accurate in the second book) However, when the fairly meager evidence is examined, the real village of Greenwich, New York is about the closest real-life town to Union Grove in both size and location. Interestingly, Kuntsler lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, and has actually said Union Grove is based in that town, but Saratoga Springs is much, much bigger than Union Grove would seem to be, and far to the wrong side of the Hudson, nowhere near the Battenkill.
    • The idea that Greenwich is Union Grove is made more or less entirely clear within the first few chapters of the sequel, The Witch of Hebron. Two boys walk home to town along State Route 29, past a strip mall mentioned in the first book that is described in this one as having had a Kmart in it. A shortcut behind the mall leads into the woods and eventually to the former high school north of town. Route 29 and the strip mall with Kmart both exist as described in Greenwich, and Greenwich High School is north of town in the exact same position as in the book. There's also mention of Salem Road, which is also in Greenwich, and a mill on the Battenkill that has been abandoned since The '70s, which also really exists. This trope is also annoying played straight in the sequel with a brief mention of an obviously now defunct four-year liberal arts school, Greer College in a town to the west called Excelsior Springs. Anyone who knows the area would know that this is just a name-changed reference to Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, where Kunstler currently lives. Why he changed the names of such things, but not those of most other locations, is anyone's guess...
  • Occidental Otaku: "Otaku" isn't exactly the right word, but Stephen Bullock is quite the Japanophile, a fact made somewhat clearer in the second book than in the first. He has some antique Japanese furniture in his house, a Japanese-style pavilion beside a pond, prefers tea to coffee, and has a katana hidden in an umbrella stand in his bedroom! All this is attributed to the time he spent in Japan teaching English after college, and it arguably makes him stand out even more from the extremely local focus of the rest of the characters.
  • Preacher Man: Loren
  • Puppy Love: Jasper (age 11) and Robin (age 13) in the second book. Somewhat subverted or unconventional by the fact that they're not exactly little kids, and both are entering puberty, making their brief interaction rather more sexual than might be expected. Thanks to the borderline nonconsensual actions of the rather precocious and promiscuous Robin, what seems like the makings of a sweet but fairly chaste scene ends with the two naked in bed together, with perhaps the only thing keeping it from becoming a genuine sex scene being the fact that Jasper doesn't know how. Regardless, he never sees her again within the confines of this particular book, but obviously misses her and does name his new puppy after her in the epilogue.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: The U.S. dollar has lost its purchasing power as a result of the government's enforced closure to the outside world and the collapse of communication and trade.
  • Scavenger World: Yes, it's also this. Because the industry is dead and the production of countless new goods and materials is impossible, people must scavenge what they can and trade for or make themselves anything else. If you can't make it, barter with a skilled tradesman for it, or find it lying around, you won't be getting it. However, the ways that the characters navigate around these problems are part of what makes the book interesting.
  • Shout-Out: The main character, Robert Ehrlich, was named after Paul R. Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb.
  • Sliding Scaleof Gender Inequality: A Level 3. Women in Union Grove generally have domestic and helpmate positions while men hold all the positions of power.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The entire male population of Union Grove seems to have done this as a collective to their women. (See Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality above)
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Jane Ann cheats on Loren with the protagonist. Although Robert does feel guilty about this at times, the author makes the point that Loren and Jane Ann are not that close.
    • The trope somewhat stops applying after a point in the second book. We are reminded (or perhaps told for the first time?) that Loren and Jane Ann aren't very close because Loren essentially has erectile dysfunction. After a visit to the titular Witch of Hebron, he is essentially cured, his relationship with his wife improves massively, and Robert is no longer involved in their relationship.