SF: Harlan County Horrors, edited by Mari Adkins

Over the course of a life hard lived, the minder and the town and the mountain became as one, and no one ever left Harlan alive.

Country noir fits easily with horror.  What is scarier than a long, dark shaft in an abandoned coal mine?  Might our greed for the black stuff cause us to dig too deep?  Might the violence on the surface go beyond the natural into the supernatural?

I was delighted to learn that Apex released a collection of short horror stories set in Harlan County, Kentucky (originally famous for the coal mine labor strife featured in Harlan County, USA and more recently famous as the setting for neo-Western Justified).

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Oddments: Top Five Hallowreads at Hillbilly Highways

I have a couple more Hallowreads coming for y’all.  I am several stories into Harlan County Horrors, edited by Mari Adkins, and after that I will start Congregations of the Dead by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge.  I am also somewhat distracted by watching AMC’s Preacher.  But I will get reviews posted of both by Halloween.  In the meantime, I’ve already reviewed some pretty damn good horror here at Hillbilly Highways.

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Nonfiction: Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

You can learn a lot about Hillbilly Elegy and Appalachian Reckoning just from the names.  Several of the writers here protest that Vance does not and never did live in Appalachia.  But Vance uses the term ‘hillbilly.’  You can take the hillbillies out of the Appalachian Mountains, and we have left in droves, but we do not cease to be hillbillies.  Nor are all residents of the Appalachian Mountains hillbillies.  Appalachian Reckoning is much more concerned with those people.  Vance is talking about a culture, not a region (and, more narrowly, a family and he himself).  The subtitle here is a lie.  Appalachian Reckoning cannot be said to speak for the region.  Many residents of Appalachia are poor, many do not have college degrees; the contributors are members of America’s new, education-based elite.  Nor is it much of a reckoning, although at least that language is upfront about the position the vast majority of the contributors take.

I reread Hillbilly Elegy after reading Appalachian Reckoning just to make sure I wasn’t misremembering it.  Appalachian Reckoning, as it turns out, did Vance a great favor.  I went into Hillbilly Elegy with my back up, the natural state for a hillbilly reading about his people or region.  Appalachian Reckoning reoriented me, and I was fully able to appreciate just how poignant and powerful a work Hillbilly Elegy is on my reread.  I also confirmed that the early essays in Appalachian Reckoning are deeply unfair and incredibly sloppy.

I expressed my frustrations with the first essay in this collection at length.  I don’t want to belabor my points here.  And, frankly, there is nothing I can say that will undercut the essays in the first part of the book more than the essays in the second part of the book.  The first set of essays are “directly assessing or commenting on the words and impact of Vance’s influential work.”  Most of the unsupported assertions in these essays are contradicted by the “autobiographical reflections on the book” and “narratives and images that together provide a snapshot of a place.”  The first tells us that Vance’s experiences and observations are a lie; the second gives experiences and observations remarkably similar Vance’s.

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September 2019 Month-in-Review

Check out which posts at Hillbilly Highways were most popular last month and find out what I’ve been reading here:

Every Day Should Be Tuesday

For once, September was a nice, chill, easy month with plenty of time for reading and blogging . . . Ha!  Just kidding.  September was crazy again.  Any pace that allows me to keep up with reading and blogging (and, uh, family time) is sustainable.  no-angel, by the way, started walking this month.  She remains a remarkably dutiful child, is starting to babble, and is the star of her swim class.

It was business as usual around the blogs.  September was a bit of a step back, view-wise, at Every Day Should Be Tuesday, but it was by no means a bad month.  It was also my fifth-best month ever at Hillbilly Highways.

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Music Monday: Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns

I loved this documentary.  I am going to buy it on blu-ray.  I will buy the coffee table book.  I will buy the soundtrack.

It will be great for country music.  There are a lot of Ken Burns fans who just got introduced to a massive amount of great country.   There are a lot of casual fans who were educated on the breadth of the genre. Even for more serious fans like myself, holes were filled.

That works the other way, too.  I am now a Ken Burns fan and need to pick up another of his documentaries.

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New Music Friday: Sound and Fury by Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson declared months ago that his new album would not be country.  The New York Times describes it as “resentful, agonized, seething.”  The NYT also describes it as “high-viscosity Southern rock à la ZZ Top, with a potent rhythmic undertow.”  Good enough for me.

Out Today: Sound & Fury by Sturgill Simpson.

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