Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I wanted to read Hillbilly Elegy after listening to an interview between Charlie Rose and the author, JD Vance. The memoir is an examination of white working class America with connections to Appalachia and the Rust Belt. Vance has a refreshing writing style. I found the content moving and interesting.
Vance's family was from Ohio and Kentucky and his memoir is a compelling coming-of-age true story that demonstrates the full measure of the brokenness that wracks Appalachia: Familial breakdown, opioid addiction, and a pessimism about the future. . . a realization that your choices really don't matter. It is a story of the working class "honor code," a culture of intense group loyalty. The Vance clan is full of hard people. His mother suffered from drug addiction and went through several partners over the course of J.D's life. As the author says, he comes from a family that would rather shoot at you than argue with you. Yelling or violence aren't the normal ways of resolving conflicts.
But it is also a story that exemplifies the depths of familial love and opportunity. There is still a lot of love and togetherness, even if it's between all the swear words. Despite the deck being stacked against him in every way, and due to the positive influence of his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, Vance managed to come out on top. He beat the odds and joined the Marines, which experience was a motivating and positive influence, then to college, and on to Yale Law School.
Hillbilly Elegy was an eye-opening and utterly important read for me. I learned quite a bit about what so many people in America believe and why they are so disillusioned and unhappy with their lives. The industrial economy has been very tough in these areas and people give up. They are resentful of the media and the establishment and feel victimized by political policies. Whether disgusted or thrilled with the results of what happened in last Fall's (2016) election, this highly readable memoir may enhance your understanding of today's political climate and why what happened in last Fall's election.
David Brooks described Hillbilly Elegy as"essential reading for this moment in history." (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/28/op... ). I agree.
And if you read this book without any desire or intent to gain insight into societal issues, you will still not be disappointed as it is an entertaining read with great social commentary and observations. The author, a liberal who voted for Hillary, does not really provide solutions for the cultural crisis, except to say that government cannot solve it.
Hillbilly Elegy is an examination of the lasting effects of poverty and dysfunction on communities, but what comes across most is J.D. Vance's deep love for the community and a way of life that he left— and of the rich character of a people who love their homes and families very deeply.
*caveat to many of my friends and other gentle readers: there is some difficult harsh language, for which I usually dock a star from my rating, but in this situation I feel it is truly necessary for the accuracy and feeling of the author's family and culture. I listened to the author's reading of the audio book, which was very well done, but which for me always seems to make the language even more severe.
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