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Archive for the ‘rural Kentucky’ Tag

Emerging from the Hills   Leave a comment

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Hicks, rubes, country bumpkins and hillbillies all conjure the same image: poor and uneducated. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, subtitled: “A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” examines the consequences of the often unbroken cycle of poverty. The poor have fewer choices and those available are not always the smartest or best options.

Vance, a self-identified hillbilly and Yale Law School alum, describes his damaged upbringing in Ohio and his family’s strong ties to the Appalachia region of Kentucky poignantly and, occasionally, humorously. There’s no sugar coating.

Vance is quick to note that his background is not unique. Single parents, drug addiction, low-paying wages, unemployment and teen pregnancy are among the detrimental factors faced by many, including the author’s mother. Vance credits his grandparents, with whom he lived for much of his childhood, for instilling a sense that life could offer more.

Although he didn’t initially embrace the idea, a stint in the Marines after graduating from high school and his grandparents’ efforts, eventually Vance recognizes the value of education as a means of changing his life’s direction. Being aware of not wanting to replicate his mother’s behavior also helped.

The fact that he’s a successful lawyer and is happily married does set him apart, though, from those he grew up around. A few family members provide exceptions, but not many. Interspersing statistics with his own experiences, Vance notes that the region and the cyclical existence of its inhabitants make it difficult to merge into a more positive lifestyle.

Hillbilly Elegy
Four Bookmarks
Harper/Collins, 2016
261 pages

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Sweeping Under the Rug   Leave a comment

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I’m very close to my mother, so I’m usually drawn to novels with strong, happy mother/daughter relationships. Carolyn Wall’s Sweeping Up Glass doesn’t fit this description, at least not the happy part. Nonetheless, this is an engaging, albeit flawed, story about family, community and racism in rural Kentucky.

Narrator Olivia Harker Cross has lived in Pope County all her life. She recounts her seemingly-idyllic childhood where her best friends are Pap, her beloved father, and Love Alice, a child-bride of color. Olivia’s mother is in a mental hospital for much of Olivia’s early life. But, tranquil accounts can get boring, which is why Wall provides conflict just when things seem to be just a little too blissful.

Ida, Olivia’s mother, returns home from the mental institute and life for the young girl loses much of its carefree charm. This single event slowly instigates an avalanche of challenges. Mother and daughter have a hellish relationship that continues into Olivia’s adulthood.

The narrative moves from Olivia’s youth to her life as a grown woman, left to care for the mother she despises and for Will’m, the grandson she cherishes. The poverty Wall describes is tangible, as is the harsh winter weather. Less, this sound completely joyless, be assured there are moments of hope and happiness. There are also vivid images of hatred and bigotry. These play against a long-held secret that once revealed shatters everything Olivia thought she knew about herself and those she loves. The problem is that all the pieces don’t quite fit.

The few missteps raise questions that trip up an otherwise compelling tale.

Sweeping Up Glass
Almost Four Bookmarks
Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2009
319 pages