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'Hillbilly Elegy' Hits Close to Home

What J. D. Vance’s book taught me about my own painful past in rural America.
'Hillbilly Elegy' Hits Close to Home

J. D. Vance's new book, Hillbilly Elegy, has hit a national nerve for people on both sides of the political aisle. Rod Dreher’s recent interview with Vance was so popular that the site crashed. “It has become by far the most-read piece ever on TAC (The American Conservative),” according to Dreher. In the interview, Vance talks openly about growing up in rural Appalachia, recognizing moral agency among the poor, and, in Dreher’s words, the need for “more honest dialogue about poverty and dysfunction in America.” Vance also explores a question that many of us are asking: Why are so many people voting for Donald Trump?

My own story has something to do with it.

I grew up in a 3,000-square foot home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. When I was young, my mother subscribed to colonial home decorating magazines and our county was almost always highlighted in them. We were not allowed to watch sitcoms, but when I caught a glimpse, I couldn't see the charm—that was my life every day. We were a normal, white, upper-middle-class, large, conservative family. When I was 18, though, my family uprooted suddenly from our (as I see it now) crumbling mirage of normal and moved to a 120-acre working farm in the North Country, New York. We seven kids and our parents moved into an outdated bed and breakfast on the property and set about making it our own. We rolled up our sleeves, tilled the land, made friends with farmers, canned fruit, stockpiled wheat ...

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