In this debut the author uses his personal story to look at the very thorny issue of why a large swatch of working class America seems to be shut out of and, he argues, is shutting themselves out of the American Dream.
Vance paints a vivid personal portrait of white, working class Appalachian America. And the picture he paints is dispiriting—an America that has been slowly disintegrating over the last forty years and is uniquely pessimistic about the future. It will be a familiar story to those of us who love that part of the country and whose own roots are in Appalachia.
Vance draws on his own experience and on social theorists to make large claims about how poverty, joblessness, lack of education, addiction and erosion of family ties have led to despair and a turning away from faith in the American Dream. Perhaps controversially, he makes the case that hillbilly culture is as much to blame for the situation as the governmental and social forces that continue to tear apart the fabric of their culture.
Media on both sides of the political divide are interested in this book with initial reviews to come in the Washington Post and National Review. And to an election year marked by the spectacular rise of an outsider candidate brought to power by mostly older, mostly white Americans who are angrily voicing their sense disenfranchisement, Vance brings an interesting perspective.
[An] understated, engaging debut…An unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class whose health and economic problems are making headlines in this election year.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, this memoir is akin to investigative journalism. … A quick and engaging read, this book is well suited to anyone interested in a study of modern America, as Vance’s assertions about Appalachia are far more reaching.”
— Library Journal
Vance compellingly describes the terrible toll that alcoholism, drug abuse, and an unrelenting code of honor took on his family, neither excusing the behavior nor condemning it…The portrait that emerges is a complex one…Unerringly forthright, remarkably insightful, and refreshingly focused, Hillbilly Elegy is the cry of a community in crisis.
“Hillbilly Elegy is a sad and beautiful kind of reckoning. J.D. Vance is coming to terms with his own up-bringing, highlighting both working-class and poverty-stricken whites in Appalachia, the Rust Belt, and much of the nation. By his estimation, these are troubling times. Vance uses his own family as a microcosm to highlight the culture, the politics, and economic status of a specific group living on the margins. He covers topics ranging from education, familial bonds, addiction, and health that all seem incredibly timely to the current political landscape. But where Vance really shines is telling the story of his family – a harrowing tale to be sure, but one that is told with grace, honesty, and insight. While I don’t necessarily agree with his politics, or his proposed solutions to the problems presented, I found the book deeply moving and important in understanding America today. A timely and necessary book. A must read.”
— Hilary Gustafson, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (9780062300546) by J.D. Vance. $27.99 hardcover. 6/28/16 on sale.