Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds To HIllbilly Elegy, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll
This book would be more accurately subtitled: A region’s progressives whine about Hillbilly Elegy. That’s what this book is: 400 pages of mostly whining essays that show progressives unhappy that a white male conservative from the Appalachian diaspora chose to write a memoir in which he expressed disapproval for the sort of handicap he feels he suffers because of his region as well as some of the more negative aspects of his culture like a lack of a strong work ethic (not helped by the region’s predilection for voting Democrat for many years) as well as a high degree of substance abuse. The book that these essayists are attacking is a memoir that accurately presents the author’s own personal experience and perspective and shows that progressives are unwilling even to let someone’s own personal narrative go unchallenged when it casts shade on dubious and misguided progressive narratives about culture. Many of the essayists here include discussions of their own childhood and upbringing as if to say that their experience trumps that of the author of Hillbilly Elegy, when in reality anecdotal experience is anecdotal experience and one person’s stories are their own. Rarely has so much invective and abuse and so much whining been directed at such an inappropriate target.
After acknowledgments and an introduction to try to justify this travesty of a book, the volume is divided into two parts, one of which is divided further into two sub-parts, with numerous essays, most of them abominable, in the various sections. The first part of the book shows the various gatekeeping academics “considering” Hillbilly Elegy as if they have some sort of authority and legitimacy to do so, first interrogating it like a suspected criminal in some kind of police procedural, bashing Trump and trying desperately to show that Appalachia is full of enough crackpot leftists to make it the same as other regions of the United States. After that there is another, smaller, section of essays that seeks to “respond” to Hillbilly Elegy the same way that leftist social media trolls respond to anything that presents a reasonable conservative perspective. After that the second part of the book tries to show various essays that move “beyond” Hillbilly Elegy in terms of presenting their own life stories and narratives as if intersectionality was a valid way to determine the validity of one’s personal stories in a competitive market for credibility.
Unfortunately, this book lacks credibility in that it demonstrates the moral corruption at the heart of the leftist narrative, in that obvious truths cannot be admitted, and large classes of people are told that their experience is not sufficiently representative nor their worldview acceptable enough to be published without receiving a great deal of undeserved harsh personal and academic criticism. Moreover, the book fails at its basic purpose of trying to discourage people from reading Hillbilly Elegy, since this book’s unjust treatment of that material only makes me want to read it all the more, so that I can give proper if measured approval to a memoir of a life that bears a lot of similarities to my own in terms of the rise from a broken family struggling with alcoholism and other types of abuse and the knowledge that one can never entirely leave one’s past behind no matter how far away one tries to get away from it. This book made me feel a great deal of empathy for Vance, not only that he had to struggle against a difficult childhood in which he felt handicapped by his Appalachian heritage, but that he then became the undeserved target of further abuse from the region’s whiny Progressive population after having succeeded enough to publish a best-selling memoir about his experiences.