Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy
by J.D. Vance
Harper, 2016. 272 pgs. Biography.

Part memoir, part sociological analysis, Hillbilly Elegy tells the story of J.D. Vance, his family, and the poor, discontented rust belt culture in which he was raised. As a young married couple, J.D.’s grandparents moved from Appalachian Kentucky to Ohio in search of a middle class life. In some ways, they succeeded - J.D.’s grandfather found a good job in manufacturing, their children finished high school and some college, and J.D.’s mother became a nurse. But in other, more profound ways, the culture of poverty loomed over their lives and the lives of their neighbors, most of whom were also Appalachian transplants. Alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, family dysfunction, and abuse remained, and as manufacturing jobs left the area, poverty returned.

Through the support of his MaMaw, his own hard work, and several fortunate opportunities, J.D. graduated high school, joined the marines, and eventually graduated from Yale Law School. Hillbilly Elegy is at turns moving, funny, and eye opening. I felt like the writing could have benefited from a little more editing and direction, but Vance's insights were so interesting that it didn't bother me too much. His story offers an honest, personal look at poor, white America and a unique perspective on the forces shaping culture and politics today.

- SR

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