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

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