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Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War Paperback – June 24, 2008
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
"Joe Bageant is a brilliant writer. He evokes working class America like no one else. The account of his revisit to his Virginia roots is sobering, poignant, and instructive."
—Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States
"This book is righteous, self-righteous, exhilarating, and aggravating. By God, it's a raging, hilarious, and profane love song to the great American redneck. As a blue state man with a red state childhood, I have been waiting for this book for years. We ignore its message at our peril."
—Sherman Alexie, author of Reservation Blues
“This fine book sheds a devastating light on Bush & Co.'s notorious 'base,' i.e. America's white working class, whose members have been ravaged by the very party that purports to take their side. Meanwhile, the left has largely turned them out, or even laughed at their predicament. Of their degraded state—and, therefore, ours—Joe Bageant writes like an avenging angel.”
—Mark Crispin Miller, author of Fooled Again: The Real Case for Election Reform
"Joe Bageant is the Sartre of Appalachia. His white-hot bourbon-fuelled prose shreds through the lies of our times like a weed-whacker in overdrive. Deer Hunting with Jesus is a deliciously vicious and wickedly funny chronicle of a thinking man's life in God's own backwoods."
—Jeffrey St. Clair, author of Grand Theft Pentagon and co-editor of CounterPunch
“This recounting of lost lives—of white have-nots in one of our most have-not states—has the power of an old-time Scottish Border ballad. It is maddening and provocative that the true believers in 'American exceptionalism' and ersatz machismo side with those stepping all over them. Bageant's writing is as lyrical as Nelson Algren's, and if there's a semblance of hope, it's that he catches on with new readers thanks to the alternative media.”
"Deer Hunting with Jesus is one of those rare books that is colorful, depressing, hilarious, and biting all at the same time. Joe Bageant has given us a glimpse into the vicious class war that is too often ignored or hidden by those happily perpetrating this war."
—David Sirota, author of Hostile Takeover
“Dead serious and damn funny...Bageant writes with the ghosts of Hunter S. Thompson, Will Rogers, and Frank Zappa kibitzing over his shoulder...Takes Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas, to the next level. “
“Bageant mixes a reporter's keen analysis, a storyteller's color, and a native son's love of his roots in this absorbing dissection of America's working poor...wise, tender, and acerbic."
“Mixing folksy populism with the lacerating fury of Hunter S. Thompson, Bageant’s bitingly funny report can at times make Michael Moore seem tame. While Hunting may leave you heartsick, it’s hard to turn away.”
“Informative, infuriating, terrifying, scintillating...Imagine a cross between Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Hunter S. Thompson’s booze-and-dope-fueled meditations on Nixon’s political potency, and C. Wright Mills’s understanding of the durability of the power elite.”
—The American Prospect
“Hilariously funny, very angry, and somewhat depressing...The one book I read in 2007 that I would like all of you to read.”
About the Author
Joe Bageant wrote an online column that made him a cult hero among gonzo-journalism junkies and progressives. He has been interviewed on Air America and comments on America’s long history of religious fundamentalism in the BBC/Owl documentary The Vision: Americans on America. He worked as a senior editor for the Primedia History Magazine Group before moving to Belize, where he wrote and sponsored a small development project with the Black Carib families of Hopkins Village. Bageant's other books include: Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir and Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball: The Best of Joe Bageant, a collection of essays published posthumously.
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One aspect of rural poverty rarely mentioned is its uneven consequences on women. Bageant interviews several, among them a 300-pound lounge singer on oxygen who can't get onto disability and an old girl friend who works for terrible wages and covers her car with those yellow ribbons that she believes (wrongly) "support the troops." His own mother is in a nursing home with deplorable conditions. One woman tells him that the home's director collects fees for "visiting" her own mother as he passes through the dining room, but there are few alternatives.
Bageant died in 2011, in Mexico, I assume it had something to do with not wanting to be treated for cancer in his hometown, but he left quite a legacy. This book was recommended to me when I finished Hill Billy Elegy, and I think it's a better analysis of the situation. Don't skip it.
This book was a hard one for me to review. I feel that the information contained within is important; however, I wasn't always so thrilled with Bageant's approach to revealing that information.
Like Bageant, I come from a small redneck town that, while a bit more middle class and not so poverty-stricken, was also much more Protestant. As such, I'm fairly familiar with many of the characters that Bageant introduces to us. Bageant paints the world through their eyes for us, giving us insight into the white working class who so often tend to vote for a party whose policies often run completely counter to their best interests.
It was primarily for this reason that I purchased that book. Having joined the military, gone to college, and met many interesting people, I've long since grown out of that hand-me-down Republican conservatism that Southern white families of the middle and working class expect of their children. However, I've never truly been able to understand why so many from my home town, including my family, have been unable to leave it, as well.
Bageant answers these questions by offering up conversations that he has with the local yokels of his hometown, elucidating the various capitalist, Christian, and media forces that keep the working and much of the middle class in their places. This is where the structure of the book breaks down for me. Bageant will recite one of these conversations then go on for quite a few pages extrapolating the implications of that conversation. Bageant does this so deftly that it becomes hard for the reader to differentiate between what was actually said in these conversations and Bageant's own opinions. He presents them in lockstep and it's hard not to get the impression that he's putting words into the characters' mouths at some point.
The characters themselves, while certainly recognizable to me from my own upbringing, have been carried to their extreme, becoming caricatures of working class whites. This is most evident to me in his using of Lynndie England as an example of the "economic draft". Here, Bageant obfuscates the truth a bit by proclaiming that Lynndie was driven to joining the Army due to economic hardship, repeating a common and not completely factual trope that only poor, uneducated people join the military. The part that Bageant hopes you don't notice is that Lynndie was an Army reservist, meaning she did one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer, except when called to active duty at Abu Ghraib. Having spent six years in the Marine Corps Reserve, I can tell you that the pay is not nearly enough to live on; she would have had to have some regular job for that. That, of course, somewhat runs counter to what Bageant wants you to believe about her. However, using that trope of England having been "destined" for the Abu Ghraib scandal due to her poor socioeconomic standing, Bageant then paints all military personnel as poor, unruly, bloodthirsty, and sociopathic. That certainly doesn't describe my service in Iraq, nor any of the Marines I served with, but of course that's anecdotal evidence. However, that leads me to wonder how many other characters in the book that Bageant may have exaggerated to make his point.
And therein lies my real problem with this book: Though I agree with almost all of Bageant's politics, reading the book, I couldn't help but get a strong sense of the tail wagging the dog. I knew going into the book that Bageant had an agenda, and it was that agenda I wanted to experience, but I couldn't help but feel that he went in with his agenda and wrote the book to that, instead of letting the words and the characters tell it themselves.
Overall, it's a good book and worth reading. I'm glad I did. I now feel like I have a much better understanding of why so many vote against their own self interests.