This fourth and final installment of Kunstler's speculative World Made by Hand series envisions a post-apocalyptic America struggling to put itself back together through a fractious convergence of political, ideological, and religious forces.
As spring approaches, the upstate New York town of Union Grove is facing its usual shortage of food, what with the trade route to Albany having been blocked by all-powerful, feudal-minded landowner Stephen Bullock. And there are even more crucial needs, such as a vaccine to save the 8-year-old daughter of town mayor Robert Earle's girlfriend from tetanus (his wife died of encephalitis)—and more sperm-bearers to repopulate the area. Such is the shortage of men that physically endowed movement leader Flame Aurora Greengrass picks up Elam, a none-too-bright war veteran, in a bar. (Her father, Glen Ethan Greengrass, one-time public radio personality, founded the superliberal, all-inclusive, anti-establishment Berkshire People's Republic.) Though marauding gangs lurk outside of town, ready to do in innocent people—not to mention innocent cows—there is relatively little violence here. Attention is paid to yeoman efforts by Robert's son Daniel to start a newspaper, with Karen Grolsch, the "duck boss" at a local farm, as his aspiring reporter. The book's reflection of America has a kind of fun-house mirror effect in producing scenes that echo a distant American past while speaking in a contemporary tongue. "The USA is toast," utters one nonbeliever. There are plentiful pop cultural references—including The Big Lebowski, Pete Seeger, and Meet the Press. "We don't have any use for Jesus," says Flame. "We're not in the twelfth century."
Having another go at concepts and themes he explored in previous books, Kunstler delivers an entertaining if not overly captivating account of an American society reinventing itself in the wake of a terrorist attack.