The Witch of Hebron - James Howard Kunstler
The greatest value of this book (and its prequel, World Made by Hand), is the world it describes. That world is the community of Union Grove in the northeastern (former) US after the collapse of industrial civilization. What that collapse entails can be gleaned from Kunstler's nonfiction book, The Long Emergency, and his weekly blog (, but its root lies in fossil fuel depletion ("Peak Oil"). The subsequent contraction has left people living at a roughly nineteenth century level amid the ruins of our high-tech society.

I've always loved stories set "after the apocalypse" and the two World Made by Hand novels are no exception. They are, I believe, very realistic and present a likely scenario based on current trends. If anything, Kunstler's predicted world may be too optimistic. Though life is hard in that his characters have to grow their own food, walk or ride horses to get around, and do without electricity (unless they can generate it themselves), and contend with lawlessness, they have formed viable communities and rediscovered living in cooperation with nature. Their lives are near-idyllic and I fear our future will be harder than that. But then, Kunstler is really describing life in a pocket community that has no knowledge of what's going on in the wider world. And whatever that is, it has no influence on the town of Union Grove.

The main characters in The Witch of Hebron are mostly those from World Made by Hand, though there are some new ones with the promise of storylines for future books. Some storylines are carried from the first book, though they don't dominate, and there is an overarching murder mystery (sort of) that began in the first book and is not resolved in this one. Plot, however, is subordinate to environment in both books. It reminds me of James Fenimoore Cooper's The Pioneers in that respect--the description of the world at a particular time and how people live in it, being the author's main purpose.

The Witch of Hebron is a short novel with a lot of short chapters (74 and an epilogue). It is good writing, not great. I think time spent in more character development would have benefited the story, as well as a stronger main plot. Overall, it's a compilation of subplots and it isn't clear which will emerge as the main one until midway through. But then, Kunstler wasn't writing a thriller and I suspect that his short chapters and sparse prose is his comment on the attention spans of modern readers and the influence of television.

I'm rating The Witch of Hebron four out of five stars for its social statement and predictive value. It is a "must read" for that reason, rather than for it's literary merits.

Mr. Kunstler is a colorful, opinionated writer and he holds back on all that in his World Made by Hand novels. That's good, though, because it makes these books more accessible to a general readership who would probably be put off by the overt cynicism of his blog and would more likely read The Witch of Hebron than The Long Emergency.

So I highly recommend The Witch of Hebron (but read World Made by Hand first) because it's more than "just a story." It's a picture of where we're going.