EDIT: The longer I think about it, the more this book pisses me off. One star.
Okay...so let's talk about this book. It has gotten soooo much hype sincEDIT: The longer I think about it, the more this book pisses me off. One star.
Okay...so let's talk about this book. It has gotten soooo much hype since it came out, and the small used bookstore I work for cannot keep it on the shelf. Being from a high poverty, southern-as-hell family, I am always seeking books that talk about what this book claims to be about. I am nearly always disappointed; this has not changed with Hillbilly Elegy. [Reduced to 1 star after thinking it over. Regardless of how much of my past I saw in this, I cannot deal with his other gaps and mess.] I saw so much of myself and my family in this narrative. Yes, his family troubles were caused by drug problems rather than what mine were, and he grew up in the hollers of Kentucky rather than Alabama; but we both come out the other side of some serious and all-too-commonplace crap in the South. It felt genuine and true, and lord knows I connected with him on one point: our Memas saved our lives in more ways than one. His was a Mamaw, but same difference.
The "Memoir of a...Culture in Crisis" on the other hand was, at best, a one star. Some of the points he made were valid and I could see my way to agreeing with them. The rest? No. He spends a lot of time painting a picture of small town Appalachia as a place where we often cannot haul ourselves up by our bootstraps because our families and environments have given us none. Then he heavily implies that the bootstrap method is what these communities need. He spends the conclusion talking about how he never could have made it without the good fortune of having his Mamaw and a handful of other adults lift him up and make him understand that he could, in fact, be something more than what he saw everyday. But yet, he still seems to think that the primary issue is that our people aren't working hard enough.
I will not spend an excessive amount of time on his views on racism. He certainly doesn't spend any time there. And the section excusing his folks from racism related to Obama? Pure bs.
I have yet to read a book about the small town, low income south that gets it all right. This is not to say that Vance's story has less value than anyone else's. However, all of the things he clearly admits were at work in his life are implied not to exist in the lives of the rest of us...we just don't want to work hard enough at it apparently. Somewhere along the line, Mr. Vance got above his raisin' in such a way as to blind him to many of the real problems causing our communities to fail and fall apart.
It concerns me that this is likely the only book about the low income, small town Appalachia and South that many people will read. They will see their suspicions reflected and proven in the things he says without realizing that they are in direct opposition to reality in most cases, including the author's. I once had a woman ask me, after she learned I grew up poor in Alabama, whether I had worn shoes as a child--she was entirely serious. Somewhere she was given the idea that this was commonplace and a reasonable assumption. I feel as though Vance's book will be the somewhere that gives people similar to that woman equally ridiculous ideas....more