Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hillbilly Elegy
A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By J.D. Vance

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

This is how this book begins;
“My name is J.D. Vance, and I think I should start with a confession: I find the existence of the book you hold in your hands somewhat absurd.”
Well, absurd is how many feel right about now considering the election of Donald Trump. A total opposite of what one would imagine a hillbilly to be. Yet he was elected by what many refer to as the forgotten ones; rural working-class whites. It is from this group that author Vance addresses (in sometimes clumsy prose that truly could have used at least one more edit) an often-neglected sector of voters in search of a hero. His story is full of heart-ache and wrapped up tight in a strong desire to give voice to what he refers to as his people.
“…I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember.”
Pretty raw. Instead of me waxing on this way or that, I’m going to let Vance paint more of his life for you.
“I was one of those kids with a grim future. I almost failed out of high school. I nearly gave in to the deep anger and resentment harbored by everyone around me. Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I’m some genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today. With all due respect to those people, I think that theory is a load of bulls@#t…I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it. I want people to understand how upward mobility really feels.”
And this, this is the sentiment that sums up Vance’s struggle to find his place.
“And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”
There. That should open the door to this young man’s thoughts and frustrations, his really, really hard struggle to simply find what so many of us, hell, most of us, take for granted.
“…to understand my story, you have to delve into the details. I may be white, but I do not identify with the WASPs of the Northeast. Instead, I identify with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree. To these folks, poverty is the family tradition—their ancestors were day laborers in the Southern slave economy, share-croppers after that, coal miners after that, and machinists and millworkers during more recent times. Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends, and family.”
After time in the marine corps, Vance is accepted to Yale Law School and graduates with full honors at the top of his class. Yet this is not a story of how to make it in the world, it’s an expose of the underbelly of a world most of us know little or nothing about.
I think it’s time we did.

• #1 bestseller in—Poverty
• Great for Book clubs
• Needs to end—Poverty

View all my reviews

November and NO Snow—Nice…

sunflowers-on-the-porch

 

This is our front door and those awesome sunflowers we grew from seed. Even at my age I still feel there’s a touch of magic in growing things. It just never ceases to amaze me that you can grow something so darn beautiful from a little seed that fits in your palm.

 

Love the mystery of it.

 

Could be why I enjoy the art and freedom and yes, mystery of writing. When the words are flying into my head and zipping through my fingers and onto the laptop-page, well trust me, I feel something. Not a believer in having a muse or wearing a lucky hat or all that other stuff so many authors seem to lean on. I simply read a poem to warm up, or gaze at a bouquet of wild flowers or sneak a look out my window, and if things are unfolding with my story in all the right ways (or wrong) off I zoom!

 

If the words are not lined up and ready to move onto the page, I get up and do something else. If I force the work—that’s exactly how it will read.

 

So, if inspiration doesn’t come into your current project—

 

Know that in the spring the seeds will grow again and somewhere—the sun is always shining.

Get Hoppy—It’s National Frog Month!

Toad

Welcome to spring and maybe to your first time over here in/on/with my personal website. It’s hard to know precisely how much effort to load into this baby since I am a trusty Facebook dude and post over there constantly. But don’t ask my mom, she is rarely on. Too busy.

 

Yet here I can expand more and not feel as though the entire world (wishful thinking, I would imagine) is going to pop in and place judgement. Being National Frog Month I will hop around a tad, taking advantage of this silly premise because as everyone knows, every day is Frog day—or rather Toad Time!

 

I am partial to toads.

 

Frogs, in my book, can take a leap.

 

Honestly.

 

They tend to be on the slimy side and have only croaks and ribbits to share where’s toads tend toward handing out warts and hop more than swim and certainly are more into hanging in the garden than splashing around in the pond—pad-to-pad—as it were.

 

And since we’re on the subject, (you started this after all, hopping over here) I really find it rather odd why on earth folks munch frog legs and then, on top of it all, say the most ridiculous things such as:

 

“…Tastes like chicken!” Usually with a miniature Kermit-like foot hanging from their surly lips. Is that what a lion murmurs finishing off a human?

 

These and other priceless gems are what you get to devour when you hop on over to this webpage. And don’t forget to add your very own comments and thoughts and ideas of things you’d like to know more about and skip the frog recipes please and that would go double time for toad.

 

Now hop outside and don’t forget to take a book!

 

 

Month—O—LOVE

chocolate-heart-5001

The number uno-selling genre in the entire universe, no lie, is ROMANCE. Well, and a rather new one often referred to as ‘Mom Porn’. That would mainly be the hugely popular Fifty Shades of—S & M. I have to admit, I have yet to read it, or them as there are three and now a movie. Good for the author and she certainly put a face on the self-publishing world.

 

Then we have this month of February and the 14th in particular and all the Hallmark cards and candy and roses and dinners out.

 

Why? Why do we go bonkers for the 14th? Is it romance or the love part or what?

 

Let’s delve a little deeper and simply do some wondering and along the way I think we’ll find our answer.

 

C’mon!

 

So, you’ve read author Nicholas Spark’s ‘The Notebook’, seen the movie (more than once, maybe) and who in the world hasn’t daydreamed of being ‘rescued’ from this thing called life? Strife, more like. For some it seems logging onto Zoosk (weird name people) or eHarmony or Rural-Singles-Look-Here is the answer to love. Or not.

 

Sure, folks want to read about love, but the actual doing love part? Not so much. So let’s give ‘em more romance. Write on!

 

More than half of us are now living alone. Tons and tons of people watching Netflix solo. And guess what, they’re loving it! What does it all mean? Maybe the reason romance is this huge genre is that it’s so much easier (less mess, let’s be honest here) living alone.

 

So—if you are single and as the 14th rolls around, give yourself a Valentine. Take yourself out for a really nice dinner, buy you some roses and a big box of chocolates and leave a lipstick smack on your own mirror!

 

Think of all the money/time/heartache you’ll save yourself (and your family) from.

 

Because, after all, YOU are never alone…sorry Mister Sparks.

Place=Inspiration=Writing/Baking

Flanagan Third Floor

Ever wonder where authors get their mojo? The magic powder that they sprinkle over their keyboards filled with secret codes only they can decipher? Well, you may be in for a surprise. That muse you see them welcome every morning along with picking out their lucky cap is all rolled into one truth.

 

It’s all fiction folks!

 

There is no magic to what we do. Only hard work with a hefty dose of inspiration and that can come from any number of sources. For me, it seems, to mostly come from a physical place. Setting is so important to my writing life. Once I have my setting figured out, I can usually roll out the story.

 

Recently we were with friends in Ripon, Wisconsin and they showed us an old building they are considering buying. The top floor had been boarded up since the forties. It felt haunted to me. Lonely and forlorn, creepy. Filled with possibility. It was once a grand space. There was a small stage in one area, another room had a huge covered-over rectangle that could have been a skylight and the possibilities started stacking up.

 

My imagination bounced off those peeling walls and I could see and hear and imagine. I was filled with story.

 

And yes, the characters that bring life to a novel, for me, are based on real people. Any author who says otherwise is making it up. Honestly.

 

When I teach writing, or even offer up my two-cents of how to get your novel going, I use baking as an analogy to creating story. You need a bowl (setting) and the ingredients (characters) to add in just the right measure. Then it has to rise and become something else (conflicts) and be punched down (more conflicts) and then baked and sliced and enjoyed (resolution).

 

With a whole, hell-ova lot of cool shit to keep things interesting!

 

There. Now you know how it’s done. Any questions?