My Thoughts on Hillbilly Elegy



A couple of years ago J.D. Vance wrote a popular book entitled, Hillbilly Elegy.  I read the reviews and quite a few people asked if I had read the book.....why no, I had not.  While the review were both good and bad, I was not impressed either way.  

With some time on my hands, this past weekend, I finally relented and read Mr. Vance's work.  The book, to me, is an autobiography of a 31 year old person.  A person who was immersed in domestic violence, substance abuse, and family drama.  All of which he blamed on his relatives being, "hill people".  These people of Kentucky lineage, from the Eastern part of the state.  

While he claims to be of, "hillbilly lineage", he grew up in Ohio with grandparents from Kentucky.  He systematically uses the term, "hillbilly", throughout the book and refers to any bad behavior as a result of being from the Eastern part of Kentucky.  He, himself, is not a hillbilly.  With occasional visits to Kentucky, he uses the state as a scapegoat during the whole of his book.  Poor choices, be it dietary or domestic, are blamed on his family being, "hill people".  

My own parents are from central Kentucky.  My father joined the Air Force after high school and I spent my childhood growing up on Air Force bases and visiting Kentucky during the summer.  During those summers, time was divided between maternal and paternal grandparents, neither of which was wealthy, both of which were fine people.  My maternal grandparents did not have an indoor bathroom.  There was no indoor washing machine or clothes dryer.  The wringer washer resided in the smokehouse and was hooked up to water once per week.  While visiting, our laundry was accomplished by my grandmother and hung out to dry on the clothesline.  

A garden was in full use by the time of our annual visit.  Meals were presented on the table three times a day.  Garden fare was the norm, as were home canned goods and homemade items.  Nothing grown was wasted and all was appreciated.  A drive to, "town", with my Pa for ice cream, was a luxury of my visit and enjoyed.  

While no one was rich, it was made clear that having less was not an excuse for improper behavior, of any sort.  Be it language, violence, or disrespectful behavior, nothing was tolerated.  

None of this is to say that I don't understand the plight of my home state of Kentucky.  It is dear to my heart.  As a child I wanted a farm at the end of a country road, just like my paternal grandparents.  Today, I am living that dream.  However, my state has problems, like many states do.  We have poverty, drug addiction, and domestic violence.  The opioid addiction that addles the eastern part of Kentucky is in epic proportions along with other problems.

Mr. Vance certainly sets a tone for Scots-Irish immigrants from Kentucky. He has fed the stereotype of the modern day hillbilly by showcasing an ill behaved family.   He does little to explain the systematic issues at work.  

Kentucky remains a great state and there is still plenty of work today.

And, many people will rise to that challenge.  





Comments

  1. I don't think many things set me off so much as having negative characteristics painted in broad strokes across undeserving people due to some small percentage's misbehavior. Other than being from Kentucky, you described my childhood pretty much perfectly. Yep, I'm a farm girl and proud of it.

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  2. Behavior was important to my family as well. Rising to that challenge for Iowa as a whole, is probably a pipe dream anymore. I would LOVE to live at the end of a lane in the country!

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  3. I've vaguely heard of the book at some point.

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  4. ...blaming others sounds familiar, it comes out of the White House daily.

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  5. I am not sure if i have met anyone denoting oneself as a hillbilly. When I first moved back to Iowa from the Rockies I started my Reformed Mountain Church , we only believe in hills, so perhaps I could be called that.LOL The only other person were a family who moved to Beverly Hills on TV. That haying makes me itch, done a lot of that.

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  6. I soon will be living at the end of a lane in the country. Though we don't have a farm I'll be living right next to one. : )
    Your family knew what was important in life. If more people were like them, it just might be a better world! : )

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  7. Well.. I won't be reading that book. I don't cotton to people blaming others for poor behavior. We all come from Oklahoma and I've always been proud to be an "Okie". Your family sounds wonderful and you must have been impressed to want to live your life in a similar place. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  8. My son lives in KY and I have several very good friends from that state. It may have some troubles (as each state does) but it has so many positives and is a beautiful place with beautiful people!

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  9. I think our childhood has a huge impact on how we live as adults! I have not ever heard of the book you mentioned!

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  10. Well said. Too many people look down on country people, but just a few generations back, everyone lived that way.

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  11. I have never even heard of the book and wonder why so many people wanted to know if you'd read it. You've given an thoughtful and insightful analysis! Well done. Sounds as though the author has some bitterness issues to deal with.

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  12. Reflective . . .
    Never have understood why being poor gets such a bad rap . . .
    Poor was in my dad’s life . . .
    Very poor . . .
    I have never known anyone else like him

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  13. Your grandparents were great role models for you and that is priceless. They knew, as you do now, what is important. It's a shame when people put the blame on others without addressing the whole picture, blaming others is the easy way.

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  14. blaming the parents is a freudian focus; one that destroys the 'blamer' as much as the 'blamed.' that said, coming from a simple life is something to be celebrated..that while there are certainly imperfections, it's best to not paint those imperfections with broad brushes. i currently live in a large
    city close to a larger city .. and long for small town life.

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  15. I have not read that book. The book reviews are so mixed it's held me off. But I did read a wonderful old book set in Kentucky Appalachia recently. It was by Harry Caudill. Something along the lines of The Mountain, The Miner, and God. It was a collection of "true" stories, and the last one had me laughing out loud. I thought of my grandfather a lot when I read it - it's the sort of book he would have adored so much.

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  16. I believe everyone should be treated equally whether they are rich or poor. Behavior and nice manners were important. It should not matter where they live, when I was young I would have loved to live on a farm. I was born and raised in the city. I recently was on a road trip through Kentucky, it is a pretty state. The parks are beautiful. Enjoy your day!

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  17. Good roots builds good character, normally!

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  18. Well being negative is never ever the proper way to go. Too bad he couldn't figure that out. You know the older way of life where everything was/is appreciated is certainly a way this country of ours should get back to.. Memories are to be wrapped around our heart and looking back negatively is baggage to be let go.
    MB

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  19. I'm glad you read the book Michelle and I thoroughly enjoyed reading what you thought of it. Having money by no means makes people better in any way from those who don't. Your description of your young life sounds very much like mine and I wouldn't change it for anything ✨

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  20. I've been hoping you'd review that book. I had a feeling that was how it was going to go down. You should write your story!

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  21. I grew up in Ohio and lived 11 years in the beautiful state of Kentucky. My boys were raised there before we moved to NC. We loved everything about our lives there and would most likely still be there today if my husband's employment hadn't ended...which several years later, it also moved out of our town here. Whatever the definition of a "hillbilly" is, whether good or bad, I'm pretty sure they can be found anywhere, in any state.

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  22. I read the book - and I wondered what others of that region thought of it. Thank you for so eloquently expressing your view on this subject.

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  23. I don't plan on reading that book but I enjoyed your post. I can relate to some of these experiences with my own family. It reminds me of a Loretta Lynn song and imI a fan of hers.

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  24. The challenges are everywhere, it's all about how are we managing them

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  25. I never read that book but I did read reviews and yours was the best. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. but both my parents were from mining towns in Pennsylvania and poverty was not far from their doors as children because both of my parents lost their fathers very young in life--my mother was only 3 months old the youngest of 6 children when her dad dies in a mine cave in. My father was two when his dad died of malaria. Both grandmothers had to work so hard to raise their families, and I have the greatest respect for them. Both my parents came to NYC to find jobs when they were young and that is where they met and married. I always wanted to live in the country, having fond memories of my maternal grandmother's house, and while that dream never came true, I feel that now living in a Colorado suburb has brought me closer to nature than I could have dreamed of!

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  26. Every one is ready to blame others rather than seeing what we are doing. No one is perfect in life. So we need to treat everyone equal...

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  27. I have also been curious about that book ... it isn’t often that I see such mixed reviews (as in totally opposing interpretations) and I appreciate reading your excellent one. I will probably still read the book ... now that we’re home and steps away from an excellent public library. I strongly suspect my thoughts will be similar to yours . Though I was raised in the PNW, my mom came there from Kentucky....and (not just because of that) we were taught manners, consideration, and acceptance of others while being independent and in charge of our own destiny. Money or lack of it really wasn’t a consideration.

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