One time when J.D.’s mom took exception to something the boy said in the car, she hit the accelerator and sped up to 100 miles per hour, screaming that she was going to kill them both. When he jumped in the backseat hoping to protect himself from the impact, he recalls, she instead pulled the car over “to beat the s- -t out of me.” The evening concluded with Mom being hauled away in a police car.
One of J.D.’s stepdads, Bob, though kindhearted, had a bad case of “Mountain Dew mouth.” Half his teeth had fallen out, the other half were black, brown and misshapen. J.D. and his people are called rednecks, white trash, hillbillies. But Vance made it out of the holler, way out. The Marines led him to Ohio State, then Yale Law School and finally a job as a principal at a Silicon Valley investment firm. Looking back on his youth, and all he fled, yields a frank, unsentimental, harrowing memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy.” It’s a superb book given an extra layer of importance by its political reverberations: When Vance returns home these days, he sees yard after yard festooned with Trump signs.