Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance or is it James Donald Bowman or is it James David Hamel? It is called a memoir, but is really fiction. As a memoir it is fake, fabricated and just plain bullshit. This hoax sits along side other notable fraudulent memoirs like The Education of Little Tree and James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces that fooled Oprah. In his introduction, which is excellent lawyer speak, Vance supplies much evidence to the hoax and in Chapter Two again warns us of his duplicity: “This is the story my grandparents told me, and like most family legends it’s largely true but plays fast and loose with the details.” Vance would have done better if he followed Tracy Chevalier’s model, At The Edge of the Orchard.
I have always been told ignorance of the law is not an excuse. So, too, “Willful Ignorance” is not a defense against ignorance: “Their paper (NYTimes) suggests that Hillbillies learn from an early age to deal with uncomfortable truths by avoiding them, or by pretending better truths exist.” Isn’t this the same crap we hear from Conway about Spicer’s “Alternative Facts”?
If this is real, then Hillbillies are just dumb sons of bitches who deserve their crappy lot in life because they are just too ignorant to know any better. And for Vance to be defending this stupidity is even more insulting to us. This is the story of people who literally cut off their nose to spite their face. They are admittedly “Willfully Ignorant” and that just isn’t a defense or justification for their ignorance and harmful actions. Their lives do have an impact on ours and that is wrong, just wrong. They are not good Americans because that is not what our Founding Fathers wanted from the people, “Willful Ignorance.”
“Papaw’s distant cousin – also Jim Vance – married into the Hatfield family and joined a group of former Confederate soldiers and sympathizers called the Wildcats. Cousin Jim murdered former Union soldier Asa Harmon McCoy, he kicked off one of the most famous family feuds in American history.” Add to this tall tale the one about a Tilden killing a rival on Election Day and we do have some whoppers here. “As Mamaw used to say, you can take the boy out of Kentucky, but you can’t take Kentucky out of the boy.” (Page 25)
“Jimmy (author’s uncle), Mamaw would tell me later, could sit up at two weeks, walk at four months, speak in complete sentences just after his first birthday, and read classic novels by age three (“A slight exaggeration,” my uncle later admitted.)” One bullshit story follows the next. This memoir reeks like a cow barn. It is however an entertaining novel, maudlin, but entertaining with its clichés while an adult romanticizes about his youth in awe and full of admiration that it might have actually been this way. Delusional!
I love the stories of the bully in school, fighting his sister’s boyfriend, and Mamaw’s advice on fighting. Perhaps the best religious joke I’ve heard and reflective of this book involves a man who in his house during a flood. As the waters rise a car comes by to offer escape and he declines saying ‘God will take care of me.’ He responds the same way when the first floor floods and a boat comes by and when he is on the roof and a helicopter comes by. Eventually he calls to God and wonders why he hasn’t cared for him. God replies, ‘I sent a car, a boat, and a helicopter. Your death is your own fault.’ God helps those who help themselves.” Of course that is the greater truth and further evidence to “Willful Ignorance.” Another deception or lie is about actual church going. “Despite its reputation, Appalachia has far lower church attendance than the Midwest, and is much lower in the South. This pattern of deception has to do with cultural pressure.” So lying and deception are cultural traits and mores. This helps explain the deception of this memoir, this hoax that at best could be a novel.
One dramatic moment from his life is followed with another. In one he forgets what he says to his mom that causes her to drive a hundred miles an hour promising to kill them both before he flies out of the car after she stops it and he runs through fields to a house with a fat woman in her pool demanding she call his Mamaw cause his mom is going to kill him. He forgot what he said? His mother is arrested after the woman called 911. Then after his Papaw died on a Tuesday he heard a Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Tuesday’s Gone.” This he remembers. And yet the episodes from any of his school days he remembers are those filled with books about social justice, The Truly Disadvantaged and Losing Ground, that are politically rooted to help him with his political agenda as supplied by his Mamaw’s rants, very convenient. Heck, school days are those days that dominate our lives forever when we are young and have nightmares about in our middle age. A memoir without school days is mighty fishy. How does he know such intimate things about his Mamaw like the time she took those Beaver Hunts magazines? As I said a fair novel, but hardly a memoir, mostly fiction built on a truth or two as any good novel is.
What would any good memoir be without 9/11 and a stint in the Marines? Well we get them both in this pile of bullshit. Be sure to tug at the heartstrings and go patriotic whenever the narrative looses momentum and you need to further the political agenda. I found his college and Law school a bit much. Yes, it is easily documented but college in less then two years, Yikes. All of this is just modest bullshit. “Just give me my diploma; I don’t need to shake the college president’s hand.” What bullshit.
At this point I was almost sucked in by this lawyer/con artist because I, too, found the military a saving grace for me. The military changed my life and allowed me to also go through college and post grad work successfully after a very lackluster high school lack of education. But then it hit me, this guy is a lawyer and like all good lawyers he can con any jury, and Vance has done just that, conned us with this bullshit.
What is it he isn’t telling us? What is this lawyer/con artist not saying? The one and most important aspect of Hillbilly culture that was lacking from this fake not authentic memoir was the absence of any discussion of incest, the cornerstone of Hillbilly culture. “Why did the Hillbilly go to the family reunion? To find a wife.” Incest is such a cultural norm in Hillbilly culture, sociologists and others study it on a regular basis and it has to be one of the main reasons and shames Hillbillies keep everything in the family and keep to themselves. It is what separates Hillbillies from the rest of us humans. That is why they are so different from us. There may be hints of incest in Mamaw’s secrets or mom’s desperate and irrational behavior with the flurry of men in her lives or why his dad escaped and became a born again or his uncle who escaped. Again I must remind myself a lawyer is weaving this tale and he spins a good yarn, but he has omitted a most crucial part of his proud Hillbilly existence and that is the scourge of Hillbilly culture, the shameful act of incest.
I know that Abraham Lincoln’s father left the Hingham Lincoln clan for Kentucky and Abraham rose from that ash heap to be labeled “Honest Abe” but Mr. Vance you didn’t rise high enough as you became a con man just like 45 who conned his way into the WH. White trash is so appropriate. Being a Hillbilly just ain’t no excuse for your down right plain “Willful Ignorance” and incestuous ways to expect forgiveness let alone understanding Mr. Vance or whatever your name is. It’s against God’s will. This is bullshit you Hillbilly son of a bitch. You have tried to con us and have succeeded in some circles. Remember there are two kinds of terminators, the good ones and the bad ones and there ain’t no good con men.
Perhaps a good discussion of education can come from this reading. I agree that education reform shouldn’t begin at high school but in Pre School and in the lower grades. Research informs us of that. Invest lots and lots of military kind of money in early school and we would do well. Involve the community: the previously employed, grandparents, high school students, parents and provide a community of learners in every community and the rest will fall into place because then we will have created a culture of learning. This is how you make America great again by making it smart. It’s all about education stupid.
Vance may have found the Author’s Note to Moonglow by Michael Chabon inspiring and appropriate. “In preparing this memoir, I have stuck to facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it. Wherever liberties have been taken with names, dates, places, events, and conversations, or with the identities, motivations, and interrelationships of family members and historical personages, the reader is assured that they have been taken with due abandon.”