This past week, as my spouse was sick, I had extra time to read. I read Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. It's the kind of book that makes me wonder about the implications offered for those of us who are people of faith.
Would I have read this book if it hadn't been so much a part of the political campaign? Likely--I do come from east Tennessee hillbilly stock myself. But the conversations that swirled around this book during the political campaign did lead me to expect a different book. It's not really a work of sociology. No, it's a memoir.
As memoirs go, it's mildly interesting. There are memoirs that explore the issue of white poverty much more lyrically, with more beautiful language--the Rick Bragg book All Over but the Shouting is my all-time favorite in this genre. I would say the same thing if I was talking about dysfunctional family depictions. Dorothy Allison's work is much more brutal--tough to read, but I couldn't put it down. I didn't have a similar compulsion to return to Hillbilly Elegy.
It's interesting to think of these 2 issues in generational terms. Bragg's work, and Allison's too, are about an older generation of white folks. The drug of choice, and destroyer of families, in their work is alcohol. In Vance's view, it's pain pills.
Hillbilly Elegy does a good job of describing the crisis in which so many communities find themselves. It doesn't give any sense of what can be done about any of this--in fact, I came away with a bleakness about the prospect of lifting people out of poverty.
It is a memoir, after all. Memoirs aren't required to create policy recommendations. But it left me wishing for more.
I also wondered about the complete lack of a discussion of religion or faith in the book. My hillbilly relatives have a deep faith and a connection to the community through their Lutheran church. I can't help but think that faith gives them a very different framework than the one Vance describes.
As I said, it's a memoir, and I'm sure I expected too much. But after hearing about what an important book it was, I did expect a deeper discussion.
feeling the feelings…
5 months ago