history of the working class
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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Vance, a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, provides an account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America's white working class. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm. J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.'s grandparents were "dirt poor and in love," and moved north from Kentucky's Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance's grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. (catalog summary)
- J.D. Vance's Biography
- J.D. Vance's Twitter: @JDVance1
- New Yorker Article: The Lives of Poor White People (9/2016)
Are you either waiting or finished with Hillbilly Elegy? Check out these similar titles to Vance's epic biography.
Allegheny Front: The Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction Selected by Lydia Millet, authored by Matthew Neill Null
The deceptively powerful stories in Null's first collection, after his debut novel Honey from the Lion, create a map not only of the geography of rural West Virginia but also of its people. These are characters inhabiting places largely ignored by the outside world. In "Mates," a man kills an endangered bald eagle on his land, believing himself to be above the law, and is then stalked and tormented by the eagle's mate. In "Gauley Season," a group of ex-miners turn to operating rafting companies after their mining jobs disappear, but the promising new industry quickly leads to tragedy. The rugged lives of a group of log drivers in the late 1800s are chronicled in "The Slow Lean of Time." In the astonishing "Telemetry," a young scientist's camp on Back Allegheny Mountain is visited by a local man and his daughter, their presence forcing the scientist to confront her relationship to her own origins, which becomes a recurring theme in the collection. Violence is inevitable in these stories-guns are almost always present, and they aren't just decoration-but there is plenty of beauty, too. Landscape is an essential element, as well as the constant presence of wild animals, but Null focuses on the ways that a setting can shape how we identify with the world. The scope of the collection contains voices from multiple generations, and the result is a kaleidoscopic portrait of a distinctive region of North America, as well as an exercise in finding the universal in the particular. (catalog summary)