Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War
Estes, Jack, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)
Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War Joe Bageant. NY: Crown, 2007.
Standing on the subway, reading Deer Hunting with Jesus, I was approached by a nice-looking middle-aged woman who told me that if I enjoyed that book, I might also be interested in the book she was reading about The Promised Land. I did not want to disabuse her, but in fact she had clearly only read the word "Jesus" on the cover. Certainly the book covers fundamentalist Christianity, but the only "promised land" the author discusses is his home town of Winchester, Virginia.
Bageant left Winchester shortly after high school to explore the rest of the country. Thirty years later, he returned and lives there still. This book is a report of what he discovered when he got back. The book's sub-title, "Dispatches from America's Class War," seems to put it as succinctly and clearly as possible. Bageant is examining class in America-always a loaded topic-by re-connecting with the poor working-class people he knew as a kid growing up: visiting with old hunting buddies, with high school classmates, with former girlfriends, with his preacher brother, and with local business people, all of whom have lived in this northern Virginia city-population: smallfor all their lives. This book is a study of American culture in the trenches.
When pundits write about the red and the blue states, what they're writing about is class warfare, and-not unlike Robert Frank's thesis in What's the Matter with Kansas?-Bageant does his best to illustrate why Winchester is George W. Bush country. It just does not make sense: The Republican Party has not really DONE anything for the people of Winchester. However, at least the Republican Party STANDS FOR what these people believe in: God and guns and homeland security and fighting terrorists in Iraq and anti-immigration and keeping jobs at home and keeping government out of people's businesses and lives. No matter that the environment is suffering and unemployment is high and Social security is on its last legs and proper health care is out of reach and decent housing is hard to come by (and hold on to) and education is for the rich and the Iraq War is a fiasco. …