I definitely only picked this up because it was a recommended selection for Read Women challenge task 4 – read a book about or set in Appalachia. I was hoping to find something fictional, but here we are. Elizabeth Catte’s What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is written as a rebuttal to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a book I have not read and have no intention of reading. Watching from the cheap seats I’ve seen Elegy get pulled apart as Vance’s inconsistencies and frankly racist sources get exposed. While it is certainly a memoir, it isn’t a reliable history.
Which brings me to my only major detraction when it comes to What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Catte wrote this riled up in the immediate aftermath of her home territory getting labelled “Trump Country”. Catte refutes Vance and his warped picture of Appalachia (which it should be noted is not a new warped view, it’s the same old same old that was used to get affluent whites to care about poverty in the 1930s and later and edges into eugenics) by bringing in a more well rounded account of modern Appalachia. But that doesn’t prevent her from running over to polemic instead of social history on occasion. Catte doesn’t pretend that the negative parts of Appalachia don’t exist, she instead unpacks all the ways that those negative aspects have been oversold and used to erase the other more multicultural and middle-class stories that exist.
This is a good, dense, read and the bibliography alone is worth a look. The U.S. is a big, complex place and the overarching narratives of our regions need to be unpacked and this book certainly does that.