"The world has become such a wicked place," she said quietly, just a statement of fact
"There's goodness here too."- Advertisement -
"Where is it?"
"In all the abiding virtues. Love, bravery, patience, honesty, justice, generosity, kindness. Beauty too. Mostly love."
"I'm afraid sometimes that we drove those things out of existence."
"No, we carry them in our hearts. They're always with us."- Advertisement -
"I don't know what's in my heart anymore. It's too dark to see."
"Light follows darkness."
This dialog between the main character of World Made By Hand, Robert, and his housemate-become-lover, Britney, offers a glimpse into the anguish of those few survivors of collapse living in the small village of Union Grove, New York in a post-petroleum world.
As I sit down to write this review, I've just finished lunch-a generous bowl of organic broccoli slaw mixed with garbanzo beans, tomatoes, diced turkey breast, and Caesar dressing. For dessert, a bit of Hagen Dazs coconut sorbet chased with my twice-daily regimen of vitamins and supplements. In a "world made by hand" I would have none of this unless I were able to grow or raise it myself or trade something for these items, assuming that they were even available. I would be forced to rely on my friends and neighbors in close proximity, and they on me, for life's fundamental necessities.
I was riveted to this stunning novel by James Howard Kunstler even as my heart was laden with sorrow while turning every compelling page. Like nothing I've ever read or imagined, the book takes the reader into the smells, tastes, textures, sounds, and emotions of a post-petroleum world devoid of electricity, media, sophisticated technology, and a plethora of conveniences and distractions that are ubiquitous in twenty-first century Western civilization.
Robert is a former corporate executive who has adapted reasonably well, or so it seems, to a post-collapse world where "It was chilling to reflect on how well the world used to work and how much we'd lost." (4) In this world there are no cars, no rubber tires, no shopping malls, big box stores, healthcare systems, radio, television, or paper money. However, "Farming was back," and that was the only way people got food. Travel in this world is about walking, riding horses, or hitching horses to wagons with wooden wheels, and people make do by stripping everything in sight-houses, stores, cars-anything that will provide materials for survival. The residents of Union Grove and the surrounding area have survived horrible pandemics and were fortunate enough not to be living near Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. when nuclear bombs went off, apparently dealing the final blow to a tanking economy. Robert lost his wife to the flu epidemic and a son who took off with a friend's son to "see the world", and while Robert knows his wife is dead, he has no idea where or how his son might be.
Union Grove is fortunate to have a doctor of sorts-Jerry, who completed part of an internship but never received a license to practice medicine. Much of his equipment was stripped from nearby hospitals, but his inventory of medicine, anesthesia, and medical supplies is dicey at best and sometimes non-existent. As with the local dentist who holds similar credentials, opium is the substance of choice for numbing pain, and the patient is never certain how comfortable or how agonizing a visit to the doctor or dentist in Union Grove may prove to be, but at least the village has one of each.
The national political system has collapsed with some figurehead "president" ostensibly running the country from somewhere in Minnesota and an "acting" governor of New York maintaining a lone office in the dilapidated shell of what used to be the state capitol in Albany. All commerce and social organization is intensely local, and almost nothing is known of life outside Union Grove.
As I mentioned, no food is available in Union Grove unless one grows it oneself; however, some crops, such as wheat are especially challenging to grow due to "a persistent wheat rust in the soil that returned no matter how you rested a field."(16) In some instances, certain fruits and vegetables are luscious and abundant, and in other situations, people make do with whatever is available at the time. Hints of global warming abound amid a record-breaking summer heat wave, and we can only speculate the degree to which climate change may be affecting the soil.