Thursday, November 26, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
6/28/16; 288 pages

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance is a very highly recommended memoir about growing up in a poor-working class family.

"It would be years before I learned that no single book, or expert, or field could fully explain the problems of hillbillies in modern America. Our elegy is a sociological one, yes, but it is also about psychology and community and culture and faith."(pg 144)

This is a personal memoir about about a growing up in a poor working class family who originally came from Kentucky’s Appalachia region and moved to Middletown, Ohio with the hopes of bettering their lives. What they found out is that it is hard to escape from the background of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma and that one generation tends to inflict this same treatment on the next. What they also had was love, strength, and support through their whole extended family. Vance tells his life's story, the trauma, the struggles with a drug addicted mother, how his grandparents provided a safe and secure place for him, his decision to join the Marines, and his eventual graduation from Yale Law School. Vance is still effected by his chaotic upbringing, as would anyone who experienced an upbringing similar to it. He and his sister Lindsay were subjected to "adverse childhood experiences," or ACEs, daily and the consequences of their childhood reach into adulthood. Hillbilly Elegy is an honest look at his family, their struggles, and his personal analysis of the issues facing them and others like them.

At this point Hillbilly Elegy has polarized opinions from people, pro and con, many of which are basing their feelings on their political opinions and matters outside of the book. I'm reviewing the book, and it is an excellent memoir, bluntly honest, discerning, troubling, moving, and even provides a modicum of hope. The attitudes he sees afflicting those in Middletown can actually also be seen in other groups of young people who haven't had to deal with the same hopelessness or struggles. I don't know the answer, but I've seen first hand young people who take their jobs seriously and work hard, but at the same time I've also seen those who refuse to work and blame their eventual job loss, etc. on others rather than their own attitude. In answering the question Vance asks, "How much of our lives, good and bad, should we credit to our personal decisions, and how much is just the inheritance of our culture, our families..."  I would tend toward the idea that people need to take personal responsibility, but I know that is easier said than done. On the other hand, while people are dismissing the book based on politics, I also know first hand that coastal elites do look down on the rest of the country. Vance may have actually tapped into a larger concern that faces other groups as well as the hillbillies.

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