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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, By J. D. Vance

Book review by Crista Tompkins

This is the story of what the author refers to as the culture of the hillbilly, the working poor and the white working class. While told with real life drama and even humor, ultimately Hillbilly Elegy is about the unattainability of economic progress or even economic stability. It’s about the loss of the American Dream.

Traditionally, the American Dream is to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Some, though, don’t have bootstraps or even boots. Such was J.D. Vance’s family who left the hills and mountains of Kentucky after World War II to work in the automotive factories of Ohio.

The Rust Belt was a long way off in the prosperous Fifties, but one message was sent to young J.D.: you’re going to college.

College though is only the start of upward mobility. Working late every night, being up and ready for early classes is one thing, but breaking into white collar America is like moving to a foreign country. If you walk and talk and look different, you won’t fit in.

So you buy new clothes to change the way you look and copy the speech and manners of those around you. As your Mamaw always wanted, you become well-groomed and well-mannered. No more crumbling cornbread into your milk at the table. No longer are you seen drinking Mountain Dew and no more killing chickens in the backyard either.

To read the full book review, pick up a copy of the July/August issue of LiveIt. 

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