Yesterday I finished Hillbilly Elegy: The Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. Vance grew up with one leg in his grandparents' and extended family's Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky and one leg in the western Ohio city of Middletown, which lies north of Cincinnati and south of Dayton, Ohio. His grandparents left Kentucky for Middletown (without ever really leaving Kentucky, as he explains so well), as did many other Appalachian families, to work for Armco, Middletown's main industry in the years after World War II.
Vance writes about his own life as well as his parents, grandparents, and other relatives, and the culture they brought with them to Ohio. He also depicts the lives of struggling white working-class people exceedingly clearly, from his experience, while occasionally dropping in spot-on statistics that illuminate the problems that "hillbillies" from Kentucky and Appalachia have been faced with.
Then one day Armco moved out of Middletown, but many of its workers remained, with no future, and no hopes or knowledge of how to find a better future.
Vance's family members are extremely troubled people and a more dysfunctional family would be hard to find, even in fiction. Yet Vance survives largely because of the consistent love of his grandmother. After a stint in the Marine Corps, which included duty in Iraq during the Iraq War, he manages to find himself and get to college, and from there to law school at Yale, with successes following that feat.
His goal to portray a culture in crisis is very focused--he keeps returning to the theme and reveals a world that is very strange if you grew up in a well-educated white family in the Northeast. I can only speak for the book as a member of that culture, and the revelations I gained were interesting and well worth the reading. Highly recommended!
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