Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: Guest book review by Marine Sgt. Jed Buchanan

[Blog editor's note: If you don't like cussing, PLEASE STOP NOW. Guest book reviewer Sgt. Buchanan is a Marine Drill Instructor. Cussing is the air he breathes. IF YOU READ FURTHER AND ARE OFFENDED, DON'T BLAME ME. Consider this your last warning. I'm serious. Where you are about to tread--or read--is on a literary level like Renton in Trainspotting retrieving his heroin hit after he has dropped it into the filthiest toilet in Scotland.]

Vance, you fucking asshole. This blogger guy here comes to me and he asks me, [imitating girlish voice] "How many stars should I give Hillbilly Elegy on Goodreads?" [Resumes normal shouting voice] What the fuck you think you are, Vance? Some kind of general for these people to be giving a maggot like you fucking stars? So I said, I don't know, Madame Bloggo, sir, if you think it was garbage, give it one and get the fuck out of my face. [He's exaggerating. He said this very nicely.] Or, tell you what--it made you think, right? How good is it to think? Huh? You ever try that, Mamzelle Hepziblog? So, give it 113 stars and shoot it up North Korea's fucking ass! [Another exaggeration: he said "sir" and suggested "four" if it was "thought-provoking."]

But back to you, Vance. This is about you, not about starry-eyed Vladimir Natasha Bloggo here. This is about you and your fucking fake fucking hillbilly fucking ass. You think you're pretty fucking smart because you wised up and let the Corps whip you into shape and then went to Yaaaaaale--ooh fuck me now, pretty boy--and now you can write books for other people to wipe their blogging asses with while you win a Spewlitzer for all that vomit you put on that innocent fucking former flowering wise-ass tree.

Well, you know, what? You go around bestowing this "hillbilly" descriptor (yeah, fuck you, I can do it too) on all manner of things like you're some kind of fucking grand hillbilly poobah, but you're not even a real fucking hillbilly yourself. You had Scots-Irish grandparents who were born in the hills of Kentucky. They moved to Middletown Fucking Ohio, where both you and your fucking mother were raised. OK so you got fucking hillbilly roots, I get that. But that makes you a hillbilly about as much as watching Mr. Rogers makes you an electron.

By your definition, I'm a goddamn Canadian. My grandmother was a Scot-Canadian and there was not a fucking potato flake of Irish in her unless it came out of a flask and doubled as cleaning fluid. She had four brothers. They were bootleggers in upstate New York during the Depression. The gangstas of the time. You think she was tough? Tell you what, take the Corps from one nostril and your Mamaw from the other and roooolly rolly roll 'em into a nice little booger and stick it on the bottom of your shoe: that was her. She was meaner than stomped snot, and she loved me something fierce.

Don't get me started on this Scots-Irish thing anyway. Ain't no fucking Irish in there. The ones that stayed in Ulster, fine. The Orange boys. Fine. Got no problem with that. But the ones that left? They were fucking Scottish Prods who just used religion as an excuse to fight when they fucking ran out of fucking hooch or to gin it up when they had it. What you gonna do, track Irish sod with you all the way to America? Get over it! You're not Irish and you never were! You're just a bunch of mean-ass Scots looking for some place to call your own where there's not a feudal landlord to throw you out, and if you have to throw somebody else out to do it, call it FRRREEEEDOOOMMMM! Right on!

And you know what? That's me too, brother! I'm part of the clan: a fucking Scot imitation hillbilly, just like you. By way of Canada is the only difference.

Glad we got that straight because Vance ... damn, what can I say. One thing that galls the shit out of me is you say this, that, and the other about hillbilly this, that, and the other, and you know what? There's lots of people in the US fucking A acting the same fucking way, and they come from all over. You got poverty and busted marriages and drug addiction and kids like you needing a steady hand, and they're anglo, they're black, they're latino, they're Asian, some of 'em might even be Muslim, but I doubt it. It ain't just a hillbilly problem. You ever heard of W.E.B. DuBois? Yeah, yeah, I can fucking deal it too. Well, he did a path-breaking study of "Negroes" in "Philadelphia" that showed--much to the surprise of white people--that the problem of "the Negro" was not a problem of race. It was a problem of poverty and lack of economic opportunity. Well, guess what? Idiots like you didn't believe him. You talk about lots of problems in your book. But hillbilly ain't the problem. Hillbilly'd be fine if it wasn't for the fucking feudal landlords that followed them up the fucking holler and then cleared 'em out to Middletown, O Fucking Hi Fucking O, just like they fucking cleared them out of Scotland if you get my fucking drift. Which you probably don't, which is OK. I'll just leave you babbling limp protestations because I got more.

And this is the big one. The hillbilly code of honor, right? The one that, among other things, "takes care" of family. The one that hides little sister down in the basement when company comes because, well, she's got a bruised face, and that's not something that company needs to know about. So, what do you do? Let's see, how can I put this nicely? You write a fucking goddamn MEMOIR [Sgt. Buchanan asks for bigger letters for "memoir"] about what a shiftless shit your mother is! Your very own ma! Jesus, man, you got some kinda cojones on you, but they ain't hillbilly ones, I will tell you that right now. Talk about putting her on display for company! You put her on display for the whole fucking world! You threw her under the international lingua franca global publishing marketplace bus! You're probably too young for that TV show Branded, but at the beginning it shows an Indian Wars-era 7th Cav-type soldier getting his shoulder-bars ceremonially stripped for some crime as he is drummed out of the service. Well, you just lost your hillbilly shoulder bars, son. And I ain't sorry. You did it your own fucking self. Or maybe somebody up at Yale bewitched you. Or maybe you thought you were safe because, you know, hillbillies are the only people in the global publishing marketplace who don't fucking read. That's what you think, right?

Now I know people will defend you by saying the end justifies the means. Which, I can sorta understand: any drill instructor will say so too. All well and good. But what does that do to your own set of beliefs? You say you have them, you place great stock in them, but at the end of it all, you just fucking shit all over them.

And it's not like you didn't have other choices that you could've made if you hadn't been so impulsive. Just like a hillbilly, right? Wrong. I can tell you what a true hillbilly would've done. A true hillbilly would've taken all that shit waaaay deep down inside and would've made some kind of art with it--a song, a poem, a story, a picture, something--how about a novel? Ever heard of a novel?--and it would've been sadder than shit and much more inspiring. But not a memoir. Not a fucking, cheap-ass, any-old-jackanape-with-Yale-connections-can-publish-a-memoir memoir. You think an addict buying T-bones with government handouts is bad? You just beat him all hollow. I mean holler.

It's not like your book doesn't have moments. It does have moments. My favorite is how you describe your grandpa coming home drunk one night and falling asleep on the couch, and this after your grandma has warned him not to come home drunk anymore or she'll kill him; and so what does she do? She pours gasoline on him and drops a match. He isn't burned to a crisp thanks to your sister, as I remember. But what gets me is how on the very next page, here's what you write: "It's not obvious to anyone why Mamaw and Papaw's marriage fell apart." Man, I fucking laughed so hard! Guffawing is way too mild a word! I picked up a pencil and wrote marginalia! I never write marginalia, but I want my grandkids to see my reaction: "He writes this right after describing how she fucking set his Papaw on fucking fire."

OK, so you go and get rich and buy Christmas presents for poor kids (just not pajamas, because poor people don't wear pajamas) and take them out for fast food from time to time and work to elect people like Donald "J Dot for 'Joke'" Trump--because that's going to do lots of fucking good, right?--and in the meantime I will hope that hillbillies will remember to put your book to work by recycling it out in the old outhouse where they go sometimes for nostalgia's sake or maybe even when they don't have plumbing, because it will be the best asswipe they've ever used, and maybe your own bogus hillbilly ass will actually do some good.

Except for that one page with the marginalia, though. I'm framing it for my own bogus Scot-Canadian grandkids. So I can sit them down and tell them a story about how it's ok to "git above yer raisin'" in terms of money and education. But it's not ok if it steals your fucking soul.

 [I took Sgt. Buchanan's advice and gave it four stars as "thought-provoking."]


  1. thank you thank you and thank you! Sgt.

    1. I read the sergeant your comment. He was abashed. He snapped to attention and saluted.