Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review: The Witch of Hebron

The Witch of Hebron, A World Made by Hand Novel
James Howard Kunstler
Grove Press 2010 (334 pages)

This being a follow-up to A World Made by Hand, I was very excited to start reading it since I really enjoyed the first book. In the "not so distant future" world of this book series the infrastructure of America has collapsed due to a series of biological and nuclear disasters (i.e. the Mexican Flu, Nuclear explosions in L.A. & D.C.). Society has regressed back to horse and buggy days with little to no electricity, running water, food supply, government, etc. Everyone grows or trades for their foodstuffs, and works in an occupation that has just recently come back to prominence (i.e. cobbler, weaver, candle-maker, butcher, stabler, blacksmith, etc.). This book follows up a few months after the first book ended, but instead of strictly following the life of Robert Earle (the new town mayor) it jumps around between various characters in town quite a bit actually. Mainly The Witch of Hebron revolves around Jasper Copeland, the town doctor's 11 year old son, and his journey around the wild countryside of Washington County.

This book seems to veer off from the strictly worldly route the first book led us, and mixes in some elements of the supernatural. I didn't care for these forays, but they didn't ruin the book or even really distract too much from the main story. The strange religious group/cult, the New Faith Brotherhood, once again plays a large role in this book, and honestly I find them the most interesting out of all the main groups of people portrayed. The stuff revolving around their "Holy Mother" and the infamous Brother Jobe's supernatural gifts is a bit much for me, and does take away a little from the painting of a realistic post-collapse dystopian America.

In The Witch of Hebron we are taken to some of the towns and outlying people surrounding Union Grove and are given a glimpse at how bad it is out in the world and how good the Grovers have it. The new characters of Billy Bones and Barbara Maglie are interesting to say the least, and help to illustrate some different lifestyles that would surely pop up after a collapse the likes of which this series portrays.

There are some semi-graphic scenarios involving adolescent children that are kind of off-putting to read, and they kind of seem like they were forced into the story just to make Jasper's journey more perverse and disturbing while not really playing a vital part of the plot. There is also much more killing in this book than in the first; most of it is understandable though and serves a illustrative purpose that can be appreciated.

As a whole I would say The Witch of Hebron is not as well put together as A World Made by Hand, nor does it have as much appreciable content honestly. There wasn't a whole lot of story told in this book other than descriptions of homemade foodstuffs, brutal beatings, and abstractly described sexual acts. I think the name alone might turn away some readers that would have otherwise picked up the book in the store; it suggests something almost in the realm of science fiction and fantasy just by putting the word "Witch" in the title that will turn some readers off before they even attempt to read it.

If there is another book in this series, which I would actually like to read, I would prefer it migrate back into the realm of the natural and stay away from the supernatural. Most of the people who like to read these type of books (in my opinion) would prefer to see a realistic world that they can relate to that has been flipped on its head. To put yourself in the shoes of the people thrown into a post-technology world and imagine how things would change and un-evolve is part of the fun of reading something like this, and adding soothsayers, witches, and godly telekinetic assassins really strains the believability of a story such as this.

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Yours Truly,
The Crowsons