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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
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Jenn | 223 comments Mod
Wendy's selection for April is Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Please post your discussions here.


message 2: by Jenn (last edited Apr 04, 2018 12:18PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jenn | 223 comments Mod
I'm 1/4 through this book and... "loving it" isn't the term, but it may be close. These people, these "hillbillies" (I hate that word), are my mother's people. She rarely talks about them, never allowed them to visit us when I was growing up, and she "sure as shit was never going to let" me visit them. I know them only through Facebook, where we try not to destroy each other over political and religious memes. I feel as though I'm seeing them for the first time, through this memoir. J.D. Vance's stories are like my mother's.

Growing up, I got only a few family stories out of my mom, like the time my uncle shot himself in the leg, lengthwise, when he was resting a shotgun on top of his knee and it accidentally went off; or how my mom's older brother died at age 4 drowning in a pond near home and my mom's dad blamed himself because the boy had wanted to go to town with him, had begged him to come along, but he'd said no and how he wouldn't have died if Mom's dad had said yes; and my mom couldn't hide the fact that all of her "brothers" (or cousins) were in and out of prison, though she never knew exactly what for. (The "don't tell anyone who doesn't live in this house about anyone who lives in this house" rule applies to letting relatives in California know why Cousin Kurt is in jail again (it's always "jail," not "prison"); he just is.)

Reading this book, it's as though I'm seeing a detailed picture of mom's family for the first time. In a way, I'm seeing my mom for the first time.

I never knew "Mamaw" and "Papaw" were regional grandparent monikers from the Appalachians and not just weird names that my family, and maybe a few others out there, used while everyone else used "Grandma," "Nana," and "Oma." (We also have a "Granny.")


Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments I've made it a quarter of the way through and this is wild so far. I actually can't believe some of the things they have done... It's crazy to me, though I am trying to keep the time in mind -- I mean, maybe it isn't as crazy back in the early/mid-1900s, but it still boggles my mind that some of them came this close to straight-up killing someone and have no guilt over it.

I honestly don't know much about "hillbillies" other than the perpetuated stereotype -- that they tote guns and work in the fields and wear overalls and marry their distant (or not-so-distant) relatives and speak in a ridiculously exaggerated accent and can't go a day without mentioning Jesus or God and get off on country music. (And I think they're also all Republicans or something?) It's awful, I know, and I'm aware it's a stereotype. I don't know what they're actually like since I don't think many care to break that image.

I'm hoping to learn more about them (I'm not sure what to call them; "hillbillies" doesn't seem correct), but so far, other than these extreme anecdotes, I haven't come across anything truly introspective or insightful. I'm actually surprised at the parts that confirm part of the stereotype -- by which I'm alluding mostly to their propensity for using violence as the first means to solve a problem. I don't expect this memoir to contradict every negative image that they have (I'm sure a few of them is true, though likely not to such an exaggerated extent) but I do want a refreshing look at their lives.

I've actually heard "Mamaw" being used before... from a TV show. I always thought that it was idiosyncratic to that TV character, but I guess not.

It's fascinating so far. Very interested to reading the rest.


Miguel (miggy126) | 74 comments This book was filled with struggle from beginning to end. I guess that’s life. However, it seemed to be a very similar struggle to my “culture”. I was raised in a Latino community in Chicago and like most Latino communities it was stricken with poverty. So while reading this book I was definitely able to relate to a bit of his community struggles. I am not too familiar with “rural” American and the hillbilly culture so I learned a lot from this book. I couldn’t help but think that this is the “Silent Majority” that donald trump appealed to in his campaign. (Let’s not make this a political thing).

Anyway, I thought this book was good. I wasn’t aware of the hillbilly struggle but it is definitely interesting to see their view points on life. What they perceive as life difficulties is very similar to a lot of people in America. Towns were made based on certain companies employing many of the town folk. Once they leave it leaves the town in a struggle to maintain the population and keep it from going to the gutter. I see this all over the city as well, Latinos moved to the Pilsen, Back of the Yards, Cicero, and Little Village areas of Chicago because of these jobs. Some are still there but the majority are not. Like I said it the hillbilly struggle has some correlation to the one I have seen.

His mother stood out to me the most. The drug problem must have been really hard to deal with. I am glad to hear that he is still trying to help his mother out and providing for her. At the end of the day she is still your mom and at some point she did care for your well-being. I hope nothing but the best for her.


message 5: by Michelle (last edited Apr 23, 2018 10:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Michelle (artemitch) | 96 comments Finished this morning. I had a lot of ups and downs with this memoir. I really wanted to like it more than I did -- and I liked it fair amount -- but I didn't feel like I *completely* got a full picture of their culture. I have admiration for the author, though -- growing up in poverty and then going against the odds is an amazing feat, especially considering how easy it was to fall into the pattern of his culture. It shocked the hell out of me to read that he had as many as five or six different "father figures." It also shocked the hell out of me that his culture had such aggressively defensive attitudes -- not that it's an entirely bad thing, though maybe all the nearly-murdering-someone could be gone with. I know, it's not as easy as that.

What I liked most about this book was the highlight on how easy it is for an individual to fall short of his/her potentials because of a troubling childhood, lack of support, and the myriad problems that come with poverty, and beyond that, how easy it is for someone to become psychologically or emotionally scarred due to negligence and poor or abusive parenting. I love the part at the end where he discovers that some families (I think he was with his girlfriend) aren't dysfunctional and everyone gets along fine with everyone else -- that part I actually related to the most.

I definitely think this focused more on the author's childhood than the culture as a whole. Sure, there are statistics here and there, but the narrative is largely focused on his own experiences, which I don't mind. I guess I was just expecting something a little more expansive. I don't think I've grasped the whole plight of their community, but I can say that I have gained a deeper understanding. I can't say whether I sympathize with them or not. I do on certain cases, and I don't on others. It's never black-and-white. The author's probably right -- the culture has to recognize its problems and try to change. At the same time, without the proper tools and knowledge, it will take a while. I fear that if they *don't* change, their problems will get worse.

To me, Mamaw stood out the most. I can see why JD admired her so much -- she comes across as fiercely defensive about upholding her beliefs in a good way, and she seems very dedicated to the people she loves. The impact she left on J.D. is clear. His mother, on the other hand, was sad to read about. There wasn't a whole lot focused on her, and I wished I could have gotten a clearer picture of her battle with narcotics and drug addiction.

I'm impressed by the work ethic of the author. I think his desire to escape his background helped push him as well.

Good read. And I do see how his people feel "forgotten."


Wendopolis | 77 comments Ok, so I finally finished this. I found the story interesting, but not particularly compelling, which is why I read other books before finishing it.

I’m glad I read it, though.


message 7: by Julie (new)

Julie Place | 87 comments The author might have been handed some bad things in his up bringing but he also was one of the lucky ones. His grandparents were a big supporter for him. I don’t think he would have gotten to where he is if it’s wasn’t for them. He also made some good choices for himself one being his choice to enter the marines right after high school it taught him a lot about being an adult that he probably wouldn’t have learned if he didn’t make that choice. I also think that him starting college at an older age than most do was a huge benefit for him. He was more mature, more determined, and knew what he wanted and was motivated to do his best. Had he gone to college right after HS the results might not have been the same. Everything happens for a reason and it all worked out well for him in the end.

I’m just kind of confused as to why he felt the need to right this book? I feel there are other people that have become successful with way worse childhood than what he had 🤷‍♀️


Jenn | 223 comments Mod
I think it was lucky timing. He had an engaging, well-written memoir that described the "hillybilly experience" ready for publication right when half of America was wondering who tf would vote for someone like Trump.

I wonder, also, whether J.D. Vance, with his history of working in politics, has long-term plans to run for President or some other high-up office. I can see a lot of people voting for him. A book like this would familiarize people with his name and story.


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