a memoir of Redneck America
It happens perhaps once of twice every August: a deep West Virginia sundown drapes the farmhouse and ponds in red light, as if the heat absorbed during the dog days will erupt from the earth to set the fields afire.
Before picking this book up I’d never heard of Bageant, and in the middle of reading it I learned from Metafilter that he had died, cancer. And that he was a well-known voice of “Redneck America”.
In many ways this book reminded me of Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker, I suppose that isn’t too strange as both are about the Appalachian people, the people some might call “white trash”. But The Dollmaker is fiction, it tells the tale of one family who left rural America in the 40s to find a better life in the city. Bageant’s book is about how that never worked out. A non-fiction account of how the poor are kept poor. And how the seeds of poverty stretch a long way back.
It is an interesting read. Full of rants and raves, and occasional diversions. But always readable. I may not agree with everything he says, but in some regards Bageant does make a lot of sense. And he doesn’t flinch from looking at his own family and “telling it straight”. He can see how they are used and oppressed by capitalism run amok, and how many don’t even seem to see it. How lack of education means there is no way out, and even those who do manage to escape do little but leave their homeplaces worse off because they are gone.
But of course the things he says about the American underclass can be said about many other countries do. In order for the rich to stay rich, and get even richer, there must be someone for them to feed off of. And his examination of how “classless” America isn’t makes for a good read.
But it isn’t just a sociological look at America, it is a memoir of sorts, in which Bageant writes about his family, his own past. He makes social theory personal. Although he is possibly a little too fond of anecdote and dismissive of data when he talks about researchers. But I suppose when you see research and social policy that does nothing to help anyone then you have a right to be dismissive.
This isn’t my usual sort of book, but I really do have to recommend it, and I’ll have to see about getting Bageant’s first book at some point. Plus it has a great title, Deer Hunting With Jesus