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The Witch of Hebron
James Howard Kunstler
Narrated by Jim Meskimen, unabridged
Blackstone Audio, 9.3 hours

The Witch of Hebron
James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler was born in New York City in 1948. He moved to the Long Island suburbs in 1954 and returned to the city in 1957 where he spent most of his childhood. He graduated from the State University of New York, Brockport campus, worked as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers, and finally as a staff writer for Rolling Stone magazine. In 1975, he dropped out to write books on a full-time basis.

James Howard Kunstler Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: World Made By Hand

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven Brandt

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In the sequel to World Made By Hand, James Howard Kunstler further develops his dark image of an America plagued by terrorism and terrorized by plague. When terrorists smuggled a nuclear bomb into the country and detonated it in Washington DC, the nation was effectively decapitated and cut off from its trade partners. Supplies of oil quickly ran out, and soon after the electricity blinks out for the last time. Its infrastructure crippled, America is ill-equipped to deal with a particularly virulent strain of flu, and millions died. In the small town of Union Grove, in what used to be the state of New York, the bedraggled people are desperately trying to survive in a world that has suddenly reverted to a pre-industrial state.

After reading The Witch of Hebron, I didn't quite know what to make of it. I enjoyed the story, don't get me wrong -- post-apocalypse is one of my favorite genres to read, and I liked Kunstler's vision of an America suddenly finding itself without oil. I was just a little confused because the title character of the audiobook played a relatively small role in the story.

Rather, The Witch of Hebron focuses more on Jordan Copeland, the eleven-year-old son of Union Grove's resident doctor. Jordan's dog was stomped to death by the stallion of Brother Jobe, head of the New Faith movement which moved into Union Grove in the first book, World Made By Hand. Jordan is so distraught over the death of his dog that he uses some of his father's opium to poison the stallion. Then, overcome by grief and guilt, Jordan leaves town, deciding that he has learned enough from his father to start up his own doctoring business in another town. This is just the beginning in a series of adventures and trials in what really amounts to a coming-of-age story.

On the road out of town, Jordan encounters Billy Bones, who proclaims himself to be "a rambler and a gambler." What Billy really is, is a small time stick-up-artist who is about to move up to the big time. Billy Bones takes a liking to Jordan, and decides to make the boy his protégé, not really giving him any choice in the matter. Over the next three or four days, Billy Bones goes on a killing spree across the county, dragging Jordan along every inch of the way. I really enjoyed the character that Kunstler created in Billy Bones. There is a certain humour behind him that somehow makes him all the more terrifying. He likes to make up songs about himself and sing them to his victims before robbing or killing them.

Meanwhile, back at Union Grove, Doc Copeland begrudgingly asks Brother Jobe if he and some of his men, a few of whom are ex-military, if they will try to track Jordan down. I say begrudgingly because Copeland and Brother Jobe don't like or trust each other. Brother Jobe agrees however, because he knows it was Jordan that killed his horse. So they spend the next several days following in the wake of Billy Bones' carnage.

Are we having fun yet? Kunstler also writes in a couple of minor sub-plots while all this is going on, most notably one involving an old drunk who lives on the edge of Union Grove, and who goes out hunting a catamount that has been in the area, tracking the beast for several days. The witch of Hebron herself makes a few cameo appearances, as the various involved parties run across her. It is finally at the climax of the story when she plays a larger part, as all of the threads seem to come together at her house, some miles distant from Union Grove.

If all this sounds a little confusing, it is only because I am not the writer that Kunstler is. He really handled the many threads of this story very well, tying up every loose end just as neatly as any episode of Seinfeld you ever saw. The witch becomes something of a magnet, drawing the other characters to her. A point that the author briefly touched on in World Made by Hand, and a little more so in The Witch of Hebron, is that with all of the clutter gone from the airwaves -- television, radio, cell phones, etc. -- it seems that certain latent human abilities are manifesting themselves. In addition to acting as some sort of psychic magnet, the witch of Hebron sometimes receives visions about the people she comes into contact with, many of which end up coming true.

At any rate, I like how Kunstler managed all of the plots and sub-plots, wrapping up the various conflicts in a favorable and believable manner. The story takes place in the fall, and the author uses the approaching Halloween holiday, "when the dead walk the earth," to add some additional tension and urgency. This was really a well put-together novel.

Narrator Jim Meskimen did a good job once again. He narrated both books in this series and I like the consistency of a single narrator. Meskimen has a natural sounding style that is easy to listen to.

On a final note, even though The Witch of Hebron is a sequel, I don't really get the impression that you would have a hard time following the story if you haven't read the first audiobook. The one thing you might gain by reading them in order is Kunstler's explanation of how his world came to be in the condition it's in. Give this audiobook a try -- I think you'll like it.

Copyright © 2011 Steven Brandt

Steven Brandt spends most of his waking hours listening to audiobooks and reviewing them for his blog, Audiobook Heaven. When not reading or reviewing, Steven is usually playing the saxophone for the entertainment and amusement of his family.


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