The fuck, dude. You were done with this.
So you don't really need our permission anyway.
"Our" is such an abstract concept in this particularly weird narrative device I stole from JTHipster. Miss you, bud. Come back soon.
Well, "we" can tell you loved the shit out of this book.
And how, good buddy! It's like Atlas Shrugged with Scissors or The Fountainhead's Glass Castle or This Boy John Galt's Life. Basically, "I had a shitty home life but my rugged individualism allowed me to become a captain of industry who hates captains of industry because they are elitist takers."
Honestly, what did you expect?
Well, I was expecting some insight into the mind of rural America. I mean, Methland nails the shit out of it. So does The Unwinding. Both books are great transverse studies of the decline of rural America told narratively through the people who experience it. I can't recommend either of them highly enough. This?
Okay, let's get a few things out of the way.
1) JD Vance burns a lot of paper on arguing that "hill people" are good and "hillbillies" are a derogatory term for the Scots Irish, whom he makes up a bunch of AmHist 101 bullshit about so that he can talk about "hill people" (or "hillbillies" - he uses the term interchangeably while all the time slagging on anyone who calls anyone else a hillbilly) as if they are a distinctive and protected social class. He then paints the Scots Irish as a proud, violent and insular tribe distinct from, well, fucking every other white person in America. Except by his definition I'm fucking Scots-Irish and also a coastal elite and also the embodiment of every good thing and every bad thing that he's stereotyping "hill people" for having except apparently since I don't live in Kentucky or Ohio I don't count.
2) JD Vance talks about his pugilistic demeanor and stubborn pride while also mentioning the last time he got into a fight was when he was six. Lemme tell ya - my pugilistic demeanor and stubborn pride have never gotten in my way and the last time I came to blows was 10th grade. Shit - I got Security called at a Home Depot when a meth head tried to front me and cut in line when I was 35.
3) JD Vance throws shade all over "hill people" because of their violent tendencies and the setbacks they experience while loving the shit out of staunchly religious communities like the Mormons. One of my Mormon friends shivved one of my other Mormon friends about two weeks after my 10th-grade fistfight and my intensely-catholic homeland of New Mexico is a mass-murder capitol of the United States so shut the fuck up.
4) Most of the "hardships" JD Vance experienced were actually experienced by his mother or grandmother and his own sister calls many of his recollections into question, which he diffuses in the forward by saying "I'm not attempting to document history, I'm telling a story" but lemme tell ya - I've seen some shit and so have my friends and fucker is straight up lying about a lot of it simply based on how he writes it.
5) And really, it's "how he writes it" that bugs me the most out of this book. It's basically a boring story of a broken home loser whose flawed grandmother loves him and he goes through some drama with his mother the addict, joins the Marines, spends 4 years as a media officer stateside then graduates Ohio State and gets into Yale Law where he mentions he isn't even the only Ohio State grad there. But then he sprinkles it with a bunch of freshman book report statistics about poverty and ethnography that are neither insightful nor illuminating but make the fuckin' neoliberals cream their pants because he's a "hillbilly" slagging on "hillbillies."
6) But it's bullshit. Like the story about how he makes it through four years in Columbus, OH without ever learning what a soup spoon is for or what sparkling water or chardonnay are. Or how the story about his meemaw shooting a cattle rustler at 12 makes it into the book even though his family insists it didn't happen. Or, I mean, read this:
How is that not much ado about nothing?
So a little TMI: my dad's peeps were blown out of Bastrop County TX by the dust bowl. Neither finished 8th grade. He was a day laborer who eventually became a union plumber. She was a home-maker/telephone operator. Their accents were deep Texas drawl 'til the day they died. My mom's peeps were cast out of Harvard and Radcliffe respectively because my great grandmother didn't want her daughter dating a goy. Or, so the story went until I found their photo albums, alumni letters and press clippings. Honestly, I think my grandma got knocked up and couldn't graduate but at this point we'll never know. Meanwhile I grew up lower-poor in a town full of ivy-league theoretical physicists… but my lower-poor parents had been friends with the ivy-league physicist parents for so long that we went to the parties from an early age. I was a white kid; both sets of grandparents lived in dirt-poor hispanic areas on NM so brown kids that didn't speak English were a part of my background from an early, early age.
Jesus fuck you choad be both like a normal person. HOW HARD IS THIS?
And really, that's the core problem of the book - it's a boring memoir of a boring man with a boring life who injected a bunch of bullshit strawman arguments to make conservatives think he's interesting. He has no new observations. He has no answers. He has implausibly-delivered anecdotes, old, tired saws that reflect no real understanding, experience or verite, and the general conclusion that "hill people" are lazy, he's not, the end.
But even that conclusion isn't supported. He argues that "hillbillies" don't trust newspapers or media, but then gives examples as to why they should as arguments to why they shouldn't. He argues that the social safety net failed him yet explains why he lied to the social worker and in court so that he wouldn't be separated from his meemaw (the one who supposedly doused her husband in gasoline and lit it because he'd been out drinking). He talks about the insular elites that wall off the poor and then lists all the people who helped him at Yale. It's a success story argued as a failure. "The system" clearly worked for him, and the only way he can make any sort of conservative point is to slag on everyone it didn't work for.
Well. That's certainly an opinion.
My hope was that I would gain some insight into "the other side" that we're all wringing our hands over this week. The Right sure seems to think this book is the shizzle. But the author has no insight into anything, is a bad writer, and kill-me-now, narrated his own audiobook and couldn't even hide his own boredom. Also he moved to Berkeley and got a job with Peter Thiel so… okay. Whatever.
One thing he talks about, but never explores, that got me thinking is mobility. Vance brings up "brain drain" a few times by pointing out that everybody he knows that's successful has moved away from hill country. He doesn't point out that urbanization is, well, just sort of a thing.
He touches on the fact that they managed to sell Meemaw's house in 2005 at the height of the market and talks about the "ownership society" that causes "hill people" to buy frivolous shit but doesn't really talk about the fact that our insistence that everybody should have a mortgage has pretty much utterly fucked the rural poor because they can't be urban.
I think that's worth discussing. Sure - maybe "scots-irish" people have more pride than others. Sure - maybe they are easy victims to easy credit. How does that not mean that the millenia-old trend of urbanization has been arrested for these people by trapping them in upside-down mortgages? How would they not be better off in an era where they could migrate to where the jobs are?
Ghost towns are not a 20th century phenomenon. I'm currently reading an actual good book that goes through dozens of ghost towns that sprung up with the gold rush and vanished just as quickly. And globalization is a thing that is never, ever going away yet we've made it so all these communities lack the fluidity of those that came before it.
Vance's home town, by the way? Steel mill's still open. Kawasaki bought it. Everybody kept their pensions but their healthcare went up. But we're not going to talk about that.
So I guess you're mad.
At least it was short.
fukifino didn't think I was writing this one.
Thank ye kindly for ye labor, stranger.
I shoulda figured as much when, in the reviews, they hovered over the fact that he calls his grandmother "mawmaw" or whatever like it makes him some part of a backwoods secret society. Just more creepy simultaneous "salt of the earth" fetishization and dismissal.
I second your The Unwinding recommendation.