Despite the fact that this novel paints a dystopian future that seems all too possible in today’s overwrought world, the reader will find the author has created an alternative that has a certain aura of peacefulness about it. The story takes place in Union Grove a small town along the Hudson at a time in the future when life fueled by modern conveniences has come full stop. Terrorist attacks and hacks have destroyed the underlying structure and technology of modern cities. The federal government has gone underground, and small cities and towns find themselves isolated. The economy has fallen to pieces after gas becomes all but unavailable. The lack of antibiotics has decimated the population as a wide-spread plague attacks the vulnerable. Global warming has played havoc in destroying once vibrant cities.
All this is in the past as the story opens. Robert Earle, a former software executive, is our narrator. Having lost his family, he has been able to make a living through carpentry and playing the violin with a local group. The now small town of Union Grove is kept alive in a disorganized fashion. People barter their skills in return for goods and take up small farming, much as the colonial world existed. Earle finds himself in the position of helping the town to organize a sustainable society that will be of some benefit to its citizens. It has little to do with the world left behind.
As often happens when law and order fail and society breaks down, there arises a petty dictator. Wayne Karp, a thug living on the outskirts of town, opens a “general store,” bilking the villagers and running the local economy like a banana republic. On the other side of town Steven Bullock, formally a wealthy landowner, has built up a model farm set up in the manner of a feudal society with himself as the benevolent overlord. Before long, Brother Jobe arrives in town. He is another type of overlord, one who has convinced his followers that he has been divinely chosen to lead them to the promised land. He is a clever huckster with enough of a following to threaten what had been an established way of life in Union Grove.
All of these characters connect one summer in the life of the town and change the direction it takes.
Kunstler has written a novel that is realistic in the aftermath of a world tragedy. Though the world has changed, human nature has not, nor has man’s desire to create order out of chaos. It makes for an interesting story of a future that is easy to imagine. The book is well-written and the characters are believable and skillfully drawn.