Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis
Author: J.D. Vance
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2016
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir and commentary on Appalachian Culture
Hardcover Edition: 257 pages
Source: Personal Copy
This is a personal and passionate look at life in Eastern Kentucky and the Rust-belt cities to which many from the mountain areas moved in search of a better life. The author is compassionate and discerning as he discusses Appalachian culture. He seems to suggest that perhaps many people in this area of our country have lost sight of the American dream of success. He makes his story unforgettable. Others must agree. It sits near or at the top of many best-seller lists.
Some reviewers see this as a very political book. I see it as a careful look at a group of Americans whose experiences are different from many of the people who are likely to read it, and to write about it. Vance’s dissonant family life and living away from the area where he feels most at home, are representative of many of those living and striving in this part of the country. Some are so downtrodden they not longer strive. He carefully exams the attitudes this type of experience fosters.
Vance graduated high school, became a Marine and later graduated from Yale Law School. He credits family members who supported him even when others failed him. He is in a unique position to understand his culture and to comment on it. I believe Vance’s message is that people must use their own initiative and old-fashioned values to better their lives. He does not say this is easy, nor does he think any government program is more than an assist at a certain time in a person’s life. Love and support from family and community are important to the well-being of any person.
But it is not Vance’s message or any political viewpoint that is the major reason to read this book. The book is well-written, easy to read, and very interesting. Facts and statistics are introduced in a useful and enlightening manner, enhancing his story. The first-hand nature of his experiences in a part of our country and among poor white working class people are not well known to this reader. With a heartfelt and emotional story Vance provides a chance to better understand our fellow Americans. There have been few opportunities to understand this segment of our country, and I don’t know of any this readable. It is the personal and heartfelt nature of his story that won me over as a reader. I found it a quick and compelling read.
I highly recommend this book, in part because it is a subject not often addressed. I agree with those who have called it a moving and troubling story out of a region of our land that is too often shunted aside by people in power. There is both humor and despair in Vance’s tale. This reader found his story riveting. I could not put it down. Four Stars!