“Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends, and family.
Hillbilly Elegy has been making the rounds since its release in June of last year and, despite being released five months before the election, has been touted as providing insight into the minds of Trump Voters.
J.D. Vance’s memoir delves into his childhood, raised primarily in Middletown, OH with familial roots in Kentucky, and the struggles he had growing up straddling the poverty line. This reminded me a lot of The Glass Castle except Vance’s (who is only four years older than I am) tale takes place in the more recent past, going to show you that these issues don’t appear to be resolving anytime soon. Vance describes Hillbillies as working class people from Appalachia who have strong family ties but don’t trust outsiders. He shines a frequently positive but honest light on the lives of “hillbillies”, interjecting politics and statistics into his personal story.
Vance’s mother was a drug addict who frequently rotated husbands; Vance attributes much of his success to his maternal grandparents involvement in his education and general upbringing. JD’s relationship with his Mawmaw & Pawpaw provide stability and, after his mother moves away to live with a third or fourth husband, a place to call home. They make sure he never goes hungry and the more settled home life gradually improves his school work. After graduating high school Vance joins the Marines, shortly after 9/11, and proudly serves his country for four years. The time spent in Iraq helps him grow up but most importantly for his future the GI bill provided him the means to attend college at Ohio State University and then Yale Law School.
“At Yale Law School, I felt like my spaceship had crashed in Oz. People would say with a straight face that a surgeon mother and engineer father were middle-class. In Middletown, $160,000 is an unfathomable salary; at Yale Law School, students expect to earn that amount in the first year after law school. Many of them are already worried that it won’t be enough.”
Overall an interesting memoir about someone whose life could not be more different than mine. Between this memoir, his law degree and the bare bones website he’s recently started I smell a political career in someone’s future…