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Review: "The Witch of Hebron" by James Kunstler

Having stated publicly that he is not anti-feminist as many concluded from his first post apocalyptic novel, World Made By Hand, Kunstler attempts to redeem himself with the title character. The Witch of Hebron is a delectable goddess of a woman who survives living alone through the grace of various psychic powers and the healing of men with a good lay. Armed thus, she appears to have an edge in a world peopled with robbers and filled with frequent violence.

I also greeted, like old friends, the white flight sensibilities of the community of middle aged men who peopled his first novel. The most "colorful" characters being the ridiculously archaic religious order of white men from the South fleeing the race riots, but that is not mentioned again and we are safe for now.

He begins the novel by fleshing out the psychic talents of the porcine queen bee spiritual leader of the religious order, though this does take away a bit of the mystery. And despite his having decreed that dogs are rare in a post apocalyptic world (because there would be no more canned dog food), he introduces quite a healthy dog and a boy. The boy sets the plot in motion due to the dog's death (by horse stomping).

As we follow along we realize that this boy is everything to the book. And in this regard, Kunstler wins me over by giving the boy such capabilities as have gone missing in the last decades of overcautious parenting. The boy has been apprenticing with his doctor dad since he was 8 and now at 11, he shows a good deal of confidence and success in doctoring at every opportunity as he sets off across the countryside.

Thus the plot weaves between the adults who set off in search of him, the singing robber who takes the boy under his wing, the self-identified Witch siren, a loner drunk and various other characters along the way. The road trip marches through a countryside draped in a nostalgia of double vision. Nostalgia for the recent past of technological marvels and now in these New Times, for the early American past of Little House on the Prairie, a landscape of green hills, country quiet and locally grown food.

After many adventures, the book ties up a little overly neatly in a Frank Capraesque sort of way, but I am so grateful that there is no action packed battle scene to decide the outcome that I embrace the ending as a sign of hope.

Though we are left with few resources in this post peak-oil world, the populace that does thrive seems to have made up for it by bringing to the forefront whatever cosmic and psychic powers they can access. Those individuals already uniquely predisposed to such powers are allowed to live in comfort by those seeking their help.

Having grown tired of the competitiveness of peak oil writers pushing their various grim visions as the most likely to unfold, I am happy to go with this New Age takeover of the geeks' techno collapsing world simply because it is the more empowering vision. In the end I did found the book to be a satisfying and fun read.

Editorial Notes: Quite a change from Amanda's (unpublished) review of Kunstler's first novel which fairly fried the photons from my computer screen. I'm glad she gave him another chance. Other reviews of "Witch of Hebron by: Frank Kaminski Carolyn Baker -BA

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