Review: Hillbilly Elegy

J. D. Vance has done a reasonable job walking the line between memoir and social criticism in Hillbilly Elegy.  He tells a sound, comprehensive history of his Kentucky family and how they helped and hindered his life so far.  There are nods to how the culture in which they were steeped affects society in general.  That said, it left me a bit cold.

I agree with most of what he says here, but it’s also very much in line with my experience and upbringing.  I have significant Scots-Irish and Appalachian elements of my heritage as well as Italian and Polish immigrant elements and experience coming of age in a small Western New York town.  Everything he said jibes with that experience, though I was lucky enough to avoid the worst of the substance abuse and broken homes that directly impact Vance.  But Vance thinks that is ignored by modern culture to an extent that I don’t.

Perhaps tellingly, most of what he says about growing up a Kentucky hillbilly fails to resonates with experiences with family and friends in Western New York or my Italian and Polish relatives.  Lots of these values and hardships transcend Appalachia. Part of Vance’s point is that his history is more common than images of America might suggest.  I agree with that, but even so, he doesn’t illuminate much new ground for me.

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