Monday, September 08, 2008

World Made By Hand

I finally got the chance to read World Made by Hand, Kunstler’s latest work. Unlike most of his work it is fiction. It is a pretty awful novel, all and all. Oh –don’t get me wrong; compared to most of the works in this genre it is practically Shakespeare. But overall it is pretty bad. I spent a good part of the novel trying to think of how to rewrite it. It is not nearly as sharp or as witty as his non-fiction.

To start with, Kunstler, as always, is a racist, sexist pig. I read his columns and books because he is pretty dead on about most of the energy issues and such we are facing. But I don’t think we would get along well if we ever met. In fact, I think I would have to exercise all my self-control to keep from strangling the man. First, the sexism: gender roles have reverted in full force and no one minds. No one even argues. Women quietly return to the kitchen. They don’t even come to the city council meetings anymore, with the exception of the pastor’s wife, who is there to ‘stand by her man’. It is quite obvious this the way he thinks things should be. Kunstler sees women as good for cleaning, cooking, and bedding and not much else. Men are all big and strong. In his worldview of even the modern world, there is no such thing as petite, effeminate man or a strong, burly woman. No man is good at ‘womanly things’ and no woman is good at ‘manly things’. Of course, the reality is much more complex. He obviously has never met the bouncer at the local gay bar, for instance; she is an older woman but I think most special forces dudes would think twice before challenging her. I’ve known men who are smaller than I am and women who are master carpenters.

Second, for the racism part: Kunstler makes it explicit –not just clear –that there are no people of color in this town and that this is a good thing. He also mentions hordes and gang riots and street wars several times and these are always portrayed as black vs. white or latino vs. white. He even compares the low-life Wayne Karp and his group of thugs to the Iroquois, thereby spending a good deal of the book insulting one of the most dignified, gentle, and civilized people that have ever lived. (Who were the basis for the U.S. Constitution, by the way.) I am not quite certain he thinks women and people of color are quite human. He also insults Southerners pretty thoroughly; he has no understanding at all of Southern culture.

So, does this book have any redeeming qualities? Yes, I think so. If you ignore the more terrible elements and the flawed writing there is a pretty good picture of life in part of the twenty-first century. No power, no air conditioning, no fast food, eating more and working hard but also more community. One of the reasons I read Kunstler is that he has an eerie habit of being prescient about the future. I think this book contains a lot of good foreshadowing about what life will be like in many places later this century.

I’m not sure about the timing of this book. As I read it I looked for clues. The best I can figure is that it is set in the 2015-2025 timeframe. I draw this conclusion based on the best guess that the narrator is about fifty and the pastor about sixty. This is the feeling I get; it could be a little off. Other clues are the music and such they hear and recognize. This leads me to conclude that the narrator is a member of generation X and about ten years older than myself. (I am smack on the border of X and Y, depending on whose analysis your reading I could be on either side. Which one I claim depends on what mood I’m in. ;-) )

The other clue is this: a 95 year old woman dies in the course of the novel, and it states that she was a nurse in the second world war. For that to be the case, she would need to have been born no later than 1927, assuming she became a nurse straight out of high school in 1945. That gives her a date of death no later than 2022. The year before I will be fifty. Gulp.

Is this a realistic time frame? I don’t know. In the book the crises were speeded up by a couple of well-placed nukes. That could very well happen. As could any number of other things. The downside of Hubbert’s slope is a slippery critter, and we may well slide down a lot faster than we climbed up. Also, this checks with my gut and what I said in my last post: that my grandchildren will hardly know fossil fuels. Even if I had a child today I would not be a grandmother by 2022, but I would be old enough to be. And if my first child is born in, say five years (assuming I have a child), then I could be a grandmother by 2033 or so. I think he may have sped up the timeframe a bit, but I also think this is a fairly good estimate.

All in all, I think you should read the book. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;-)


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