Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Alienated Hillbillies Are Real

Hillbilly Elegy may be the best book every written by a hillbilly about hillbillies.

From the back cover of  the book:

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class through the author’s own story of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of poor, white Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for over forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck.

The Vance family story began with hope in postwar America. J.D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir, with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Amazon Customer Review
5 Stars
By Jill Meyer, June 30, 2016

J D Vance is a hillbilly. He comes from a long line of hillbillies and although he grew up in Middletown, Ohio, his roots are in Kentucky "hollers" that are as close to Middletown as Route 23 can make them. He grew up as the son of a mother who has suffered from addiction most of her life, and his life - and that of his sister - were largely dependent on the love and care they received from their maternal grandparents. He was the first of his extended family to graduate from college, and then went on to earn a law degree from Yale University. He was also a Marine for four years of active service. Where did this hillbilly go right? And what can his success mean for others born and raised in a difficult atmosphere of drugs, fighting, and unemployment? You'll have to read his memoir, "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis" to gain a perspective on what it's like to grow up white and disadvantaged.

J.D. Vance wears the self-described Scots-Irish hillbilly title with both pride and defensiveness. Descended from a long line of Kentucky miners who eked out livings in the hollers of the state, his family was filled with prideful people quick to anger and quick to take offense at what others said. A quality of hot-headedness certainly makes decisions difficult to make and carry out. Many of these people saw economic advantages in the northern states and many settled in southern Ohio after WW2. But along with themselves, they carried the culture they grew up with in Kentucky. J.D.'s own family had a redeeming feature: the love and steadiness of his maternal grandparents, "Mamaw" and "Papaw". Although they were hot-headed people themselves, they had a deep love of their children and grandchildren that made them offer a sense of protection to J.D. and his older sister in the years when their mother was bouncing from husband to husband, drug to drug,city to city, bad decision to bad decision... He doesn't gloss over his own mistakes, either.

Along with talking about his own successful lifting from his own background, he writes about how society can - possibly - help those who are trapped in the same society he was. Although Vance is only 32, he writes beautifully about himself...and the other "himselves" in society.



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