November 13

Hillbilly elegy: a memoir of a family and culture in crisis by V. D. Vance


I chose this book for several reasons.  I am still trying to wrap my head around how Trump’s America sprang up. I only know the use of Hillbilly as a derogatory term for the people of the Appalachian Mountains. I am always interested in a story of people overcoming the odds to make a success of their life.

JD Vance was born in the rustbelt of Ohio.  Son to an absentee father and mother with alcohol and substance issues, his one saving grace was his grandmother “Mamaw”.   He attended school in Ohio and during his early childhood had 6 different homes with 5 different “step fathers”.

It was only during years 10, 11 and 12 that JD had a stable home life.  Moving into his grandmother’s house, meant peace and safety.  There were 3 rules in Mamaw’s house “Get good grades”, “Get a job” and “Get off you’re a***e and help me”.  After high school JD entered the army and served time in Iraq.  He then attended Ohio State University and Yale Law School, where he was mentored by Amy Chau, author of Tiger Mom.

The author uses the term Hillbilly with some pride during the book.  Informing the reader that Hillbillies are proud Scots/Irish descendants who are loyal, honest and tough.  Although, as the author goes on to note, it is their hillbilly justice, tight knit families and patriotism that can get them into trouble.

The chapters on JD overcoming the odds are a pleasure to read.  As much as his grandmother was a hard drinking, swearing, somewhat mean spirited human being, she did the best she could for her grandson and scrapped together whatever he needed for school.

The chapters on the decline of the American Dream, the workers in the manufacturing industries where jobs dried up and drugs took hold are a lot harder to read.  JD uses the term “learned helplessness” to insinuate that government handouts have done more to damage the population than improve their lives.

JD, while admitting being a Republican supporter, never uses the word Trump in the book.  This was published 2016 before the US election.  However, the book has sparked debate on the “rust belt” community who voted for him.

The book may not have answered all of my questions but it is an enjoyable, inspirational read.