Hillybilly Elegy by J.D. Vance Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Hillybilly Elegy by J. D. Vance; HarperCollins, 2016. 264 pages; $27.99 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

This is a “travelogue” in the spirit of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Our tour guide is James Donald/David Bowman/Hamel/Vance (the names reflecting the revolving door of fathers in the author’s life). Writing his memoir at the tender age of thirty-one, Vance takes us from his birth into a family of Kentucky hillbillies transplanted to Middleton, Ohio, to his unlikely graduation from Yale Law School. His embrace of two conflicting cultures (he’s a hillbilly at heart who’s learned to eat dinner with multiple forks) enables him to write about his kinfolk with an honesty that is unswervingly critical and warmly generous in the same breath. He writes for readers in the multiple-fork culture. He wants us to understand, he says, the “psychological impact…of spiritual and material poverty”; he wants us to understand how the American Dream looks to people in the “holler”; he wants us to understand that for himself and others who were “lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.” Few will come away from this book without an enlarged sensibility toward a band of “foreigners” who might live no more than a stone’s throw down the road.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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