Sunday, August 04, 2019

I Didn't Expect to Like This One ...

... but I did.

While I was on the road and in places without Internet access, my handy-dandy $5 garage sale Kindle allowed me to read J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (not an affiliate link).

The only reason I even bought the book was that I caught the Kindle edition on sale for $1.99. Otherwise, it might have been years while I awaited a 25-cent garage sale paperback edition find. I'm glad it worked out that way.

My people are hillbillies of a somewhat different sort than Vance's.

His ancestors (and many people like them) moved from the Kentucky hills (and coal mining) to the Ohio lowlands circa World War 2 (for factory work).

My ancestors (and many people like them) moved from the eastern Tennessee/West Virginia hills (and coal mining) to the southern Missouri hills (for farming, and for some eventually factory work) after the Civil War. There was a second migration before World War Two (to the west coast because of the Dust Bowl, Depression, etc.), of which my maternal grandparents and some of my dad's uncles/aunts were briefly a part but from which my maternal grandparents quickly returned to the Missouri hills.

Vance joined the Marine Corps right out of high school to get the hell away from where he was from. So did I. Vance ended up graduating from college and then law school and going into venture capital work. I went back home and worked "blue collar" (mostly in factories) for 15 years before becoming a full-time writer and editor.

We have enough in common that I find Hillbilly Elegy and its cast of characters quite familiar and touching.

The biggest differences are probably:

  1. A matter of time. I'm 22 years older than Vance. At the point in life where he was watching people kill themselves with booze and prescription opiates, I was watching people kill themselves with booze and methamphetamine (booze and both other drugs were around at both times, it's just that one or the other was the "bigger problem" at any given time).
  2. A matter of luck. By the time I was in elementary school my dad had given up booze and I was raised in a pretty strait-laced Christian home. So in terms of family and friends, I saw the substance abuse stuff from a distance instead of up close and horrible. But I had plenty of relatives and friends, some closer and some more distant, who drank or drugged themselves into bad situations (up to and including death), wouldn't or couldn't hold down jobs and relied on "public assistance," etc., not unlike those Vance knew.
Some of the proposed or implied solutions are things I don't agree with (Vance is more of a "moderate conservative" to my "libertarian"), but they're not really what the book is about. Hillbilly Elegy is a rewarding read that I expected to hate. You might find it worthwhile too.

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