Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir of a family and culture in crisis. By J.D. Vance. Published in 2016. 272 pages.
I read this book last summer, have rolled it over in my head plenty since then, but haven’t taken the time to review it for a host of reasons I can’t well articulate. There was one thing I found quite telling. In the aftermath of our country’s most recent electoral circus, plenty of left leaning media pundits have called this book an insightful look into the mind of the Trump voter. It is not a compliment, I disagree with them, and I never got the feeling that Mr. Vance told his story for his people to be mocked.
A dear friend, of Scotch-Irish descent born and raised in Appalachia who has long since forged a new life and path with her (non-Appalachian) husband and children, invited me to read her copy of this book on the heels of one of our discussions of race and culture.
Despite it being a best seller, I’d never heard of it. It’s a fascinating book and my friend, I suspect, presumed it would get me to *get* the universality of certain experiences in a way that I didn’t, in her opinion.
There were numerous accounts and recollections offered from J.D. Vance’s upbringing that I related to quite strongly. He offered examples and experiences that I could have written almost verbatim, but for the cast of characters and regional backdrop. This, even though I am as far removed from Appalachian culture as anyone I know.
However what many thought was a revelation of a culture in crisis was to me, more of a family memoir with traces of what can happen to a people whose history and culture are increasingly alienated from the progressive march of the larger society. How to hold fast to the good about your history and culture while simultaneously equipping yourself to move forward id important. Whether or not everyone is able to do that is debatable.
J.D Vance offers a lot of useful insights, realism, and counter cultural ideas for a guy who graduated from Yale Law and lived in one of the most liberal states in the country. Unfortunately he “lost his religion” as he navigated through all the twists and turns of his tumultuous family life. Nevertheless, he wrote a very good book, albeit one not without its critics. I however, am not among them.