‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Couldn’t Avoid Controversy: How Writer Vanessa Taylor Tackled J.D. Vance’s Memoir


Vance’s best-selling autobiography “Hillbilly Elegy” isn’t the most natural fit for the big-screen treatment, an often unwieldy mix of heartbreaking memoir, personal observations couched in sociological chatter, and cherry-picked factoids.

In trying to understand how and why his Appalachian family faced hardships like domestic abuse, drug addiction, and poverty, critics noted that Vance’s perspective often revealed, at best, the limitations of his experience.At worst, other critics said that Vance’s story was rife with racist and sexist ideology, a reliance on easily dispelled fallacies, and a resistance to blaming any of it on government and culture.

As Sarah Jones put it in a searing “New Republic” piece, the book is “little more than a list of myths about welfare queens repackaged as a primer on the white working class.” It was also a bestseller, and one that many hoped might shine a light on segments of an increasingly divided America.

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