I’ve known of James Kunstler for quite a few years now, having been introduced to him by a good friend sometime in the early 00’s. I’ve been a steady reader of his blog site (kunstler.com) for the last couple years too – he puts out very thought provoking articles every Friday. (Highly recommended!) This however, was my first foray into his fictional work and I’m just gonna come right out and say it – I REALLY liked this book. A LOT.
This was, in it’s own way, a post-apocalyptic novel which is pretty much my favorite genre of fiction. But it was so unlike any other post-apoc novel I’ve read in the past, it really doesn’t fit with the others I’ve read. (And there have been MANY!)
The story takes place in upstate New York, where I’ve never been, but he sets the scene so well that I felt like I’d been there. The storyline starts some time after everything has fallen apart, though you never get a specific time frame – whether its a year or five, you never really know. Basically folks are just trying to keep what’s left from falling apart and keep themselves alive. In this small town there are still remnants of a community, but severely diminished. They are living in a post-oil world, no more cars and trucks, no trains, no industry. Even bicycles are rare because rubber tires aren’t being made and the old ones are failing. Roads still exist, but hadn’t been maintained so even if there were autos, the roads would beat them to death. Electricity is almost non-existent and eventually quits altogether. For all intents and purposes, Government is gone though rumors persist of a President and a new Capital in the midwest. (Minnesota if I recall…) In a lot of ways it’s like they’re living in the 1800’s.
The protagonist is a quiet, calm man. He was a tech executive in the BEFORE, but scratches out a living as the town’s carpenter and plays the fiddle in the town’s musical group. We learn that he’d lost both his wife and his daughter during the troubled times, though you don’t really get much background on his life before the time of this story. He also has a teenaged son that “headed out into the world” some time previous, and he has no idea whether his son is still alive or where he might be. I found him to be pretty likeable and relatable, not like the uber-prepped, former military hotshots that are usually the focus of the post-apoc genre.
A couple things hit right up front – a strange new group of religious folks arrive in town, having purchased the former high school for their new Church and living quarters. There is a murder. The widow of the murdered man has her house burn to the ground. A group of men taking trade goods by river go missing… For a quiet little burg in upstate NY, a lot is happening!
I don’t want to spoil anything with additional details, I will just say this was a great book.
The story was compelling. The characters were realistic. The writing was superb. I couldn’t wait to get back to it every night and I was almost sad to see it finished!
I purchased the book out of curiosity, frankly not expecting much. In my experience non-fiction writers are horrible at fiction, and vice-versa. Well, Mr. Kunstler may just be the exception to the rule! This is one that will be staying in my library, as I know without doubt I will want to read it again.
There are a couple sequels to this story, and I’m happy to say I’ve started the second one as of last night. I hope it holds up to the first.
Well done Mr. Kunstler! Thank you for a great piece of work!! I look forward to the rest of the installments!
Thanks for stopping by!