The contributors share Appalachian heritage, and their perspectives demonstrate the scope of Appalachian experiences and identity ... Stunning in its intellectual and creative riches, Appalachian Reckoning excels in holding the personal in tension with the political, the past with the present. In essay after essay, centuries-old popular stereotypes are unpacked, while poetry and photographs add alternate cultural visions ... Rather than an elegy recounting what’s been left for dead, these voices’ melodious cacophony echo the demands and complexity of a living culture.
For every essay in Appalachian Reckoning that’s provocative, another is unreadable. The academic language in some of these pieces...makes it seem as if their authors were walking around on stilts ... not everything here is a polemic. The volume includes poems, photographs, memoirs and a comic piece or two. I’m not entirely sure why it’s in this book, but Jeremy B. Jones’s love song to Ernest T. Bass, the fictional character on 'The Andy Griffith Show' who was addicted to throwing rocks, is a pleasure. A few of these writers try to one-up [J.D.] Vance on the atrocity meter ... The book to read, if you’re interested in the history of the exploitation of Appalachia, is Steven Stoll’s Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia (2017).
Altogether, there are 40 contributors representing a diverse cross section of perceptions on the topic at hand. I was particularly impressed with the depth and richness of the various perspectives. Taken collectively, the volume presents a very balanced and well-constructed critique and dissection of Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy ... If you read Hillbilly Elegy, you definitely need to pick up a copy of Appalachian Reckoning.
Lou Murrey’s photograph of diverse people protesting a federal prison in Kentucky and Roger May’s stunning portrait of his aunt serve as a striking counterpoint to Elegy’s depiction of an apathetic people ... this valuable collection shows resilience, hope, and belonging are in Appalachia, too.