Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By J. D. Vance
Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir by J. D. Vance, a thirty-one year old self-described “hillbilly” from Kentucky. After a stint in the Marines, Yale Law School, and Silicon Valley, Vance hardly qualifies as a hillbilly anymore, but how he shed the life makes compelling reading.
With a drug addict mother, multiple “fathers”, and constant relocations, Vance’s home life was grim, and his prospects for the future grimmer. But he had a few family supporters. When able, his much loved maternal grandmother was there with a meal, a bed, and some no nonsense (and usually foul-mouthed) advice. And his reliable older sister gamely and capably assumed the family’s day-to-day responsibilities. (During one of his mom’s absences, Vance and his sister lived for months by themselves, dodging Child Services and scrambling for meals. He was in seventh grade; she was in high school.)
Later other mentors emerge- a teacher, a college counselor, a drill sergeant. These supporters were key to Vance’s success.
With its serviceable prose, Hillbilly Elegy is a more prosaic memoir than the poetic and poignant The Glass Castle, another tale of a dysfunctional childhood. Vance is clearly a lawyer first and a writer second.
The book would be worth reading at any time, but as a commentary on the plight of the white working-class, it suddenly became a “must read” post election. I anticipate a lively book club discussion!
Who Wrote It
J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, OH, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, KY. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principle at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife.
What Other Reviewers Say
(I encourage you to read all the reviews– some of which are more thought provoking than the book!)
Economist: “You will not read a more important book about America this year.”
Wall Street Journal: “A beautiful memoir but it is equally a work of cultural criticism about white working-class America.”