Hillbilly Elegy (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance (2016).  This #1 New York Times bestseller has been talked about a lot in the political–cultural magazines I read.  According to Wikipedia, Vance was born in 1984.  He was raised in Middletown, Ohio, but had strong family roots in Jackson, Kentucky—Appalachia, in other words.  His family was bedeviled by poverty and drugs, and the culture mentioned in the book’s subtitle is something like “working-class Scots-Irish Americans without a college degree.”  His upbringing was difficult and involved some really hair-raising episodes, but he also had some lifelines (especially his maternal grandparents) that he could depend on when his nuclear family got too dysfunctional.  There’s not much self-pity in this book, which in retrospect reminds me a little of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  And Vance doesn’t shy away from describing the self-destructive features of the culture he came from.  He himself escaped, managing to graduate from high school, join the Marines, survive Iraq, and graduate from Ohio State University and Yale Law School.  According to Wikipedia, Ron Howard has signed on to direct a movie version of the book, which could be very interesting.

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Life After Life (book review)

A book review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson (2013).  Apparently this was a #1 national bestseller.  It’s got a weird gimmick, for sure.  Ursula Todd is born in 1910 England.  And she immediately dies, strangled by her own umbilical cord.  Then she’s born again—but she’s not reincarnated as somebody or something else, in the usual way.  Rather, it’s like God hit the rewind button, and so she’s born again on the same day, at the same time, to the same parents.  Only this time, she’s not strangled by her umbilical cord.  And so the novel progresses . . . until she dies again.  And is born again, on the same day, etc., etc.  At first I thought this was just a series of different possible stories about Ursula, but it gradually becomes apparent that the same Ursula is somehow living all these lives sequentially because she starts getting these weird feelings and premonitions and déjà vu type sensations that lead her to act differently and thus live out completely different lives.  I thought parts of the book were very good, especially the parts about World War II (which she experiences in some very different ways in her various incarnations).  But the Groundhog Day-style gimmick didn’t do much for me, and at the end I wasn’t sure whether poor Ursula will ever get out of her timeloop.  So I’ll give it three stars out of five.