Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book more than lives up to its promise. I watched JD Vance’s TED Talk and heard his NPR interview and resolved to pick this book up. It doesn’t disappoint, however it may be a bit different than you think, based on the aforementioned summaries. I was expecting a well-researched nonfiction sociology exploration supplemented by his personal stories. It’s inverted. The book is very much a personal family memoir, supplemented by a sprinkling of stats and regional history. At first this turned me off. He spends the first chapter introducing us to the members of his lineage and I thought, “no book needs fifty ordinary characters.” But he focuses on a few, and he makes each choice relevant. He talks about his great uncles in terms of their obstreperous reputations. He talks about his grandparents in terms of a stable home to fall back on when his parents fail him. He talks about his sister, aunt, and cousin in terms of their healthy marriages and what they did differently to break the mold of corrosive relationships endemic to the culture.

The formula, if you will, consists of a personal anecdote or journey, followed by statistics and historical context, followed by a compassionate, contemplative analysis. Vance displays a deep sense of appreciation and love and emotional intelligence. He is very forgiving but not at the expense of incisiveness. Wisely, he keeps away from politics, though he flirts with a few ideas toward the end having to do with income credits, schools, and welfare. It’s obvious he’s a conservative thinker, but his sense of worldliness and openmindedness is exactly the brand of conservatism we need more of for a well-balanced national conversation.

View all my reviews

Victor A. Davis has always loved reading and writing short stories. He is an avid hiker and even when away from the world of laptops and wifi, keeps a pocket paperback and a handwritten journal to keep him company on trail. He is the author of two short story collections, Grains of Sand and The Gingerbread Collection. Join his Mailing List for special announcements about upcoming works.