Nearly Killed a Man for Insulting My Mother: A Review of "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis" by J.D. Vance
JD Vance is a Yale-trained lawyer and venture capitalist. To an outside perspective, his life appears blessed. But what many people didn’t know until recently about the young Southern lawyer was that he grew up in poverty, the grandson of Appalachian “Hillbillies.”
This weekend, I read Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Vance tells the amazing, and often harrowing, story of three generation of his Scotch-Irish family from Jackson, KY to Middletown, OH. From the out-of-wedlock marriage of his teenage grandparents (affectionately referred to as MaMaw and PaPaw), their journey to the steel-working towns of the Midwest, and each generation’s struggle to fight the downward mobility within their community, Vance’s story epitomizes much of the insecurity and apparent contradiction found within Middle America’s lower-middle-class white communities.
I devoured this book over the weekend. It is tremendously compelling, both in the mishaps and outrageous stories, but also the intense pride and loyalty that Vance holds for his family. There were times when I found his recollection to be shockingly familiar. Partly, it is due to my recognition of many of the same characters in my own family tree in rural Montana. But, more importantly, Vance’s journey to find love and self-acceptance is a profoundly human one.
Though his upbringing was extreme, I think we can all relate to the struggle to define ourselves in an era when the lessons of our forebears no longer apply.