When Joe Bageant returned to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, he rediscovered his redneck roots: ‘the great beery, NASCAR-loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in a Starbucks’. But he soon realised that these were the very people who had carried George W. Bush to victory.
This seemed ironic, because Winchester, like countless American small towns, was fast becoming the bedrock of a permanent underclass — a white ghetto of the working poor in which two in five people do not finish high school, nearly everyone over fifty has serious health problems and little or no health care, and credit ratings are virtually nonexistent.
What it adds up to, Bageant argues, is an unacknowledged, American class war from which alcohol, overeating, and Jesus are the preferred avenues of escape.
Deer Hunting with Jesus is a raucous mix of storytelling and political commentary. Bageant delivers a dose of redneck reality, describing ‘white trashonomics’ (mortgage and credit-card rackets that saddle the working poor with debt), the ubiquitous gun culture, factory jobs that are constantly on the verge of being outsourced, and the heady blend of Scots Irish culture with the blinkered ‘magical thinking’ of the Christian right.
By turns brutal, tender, incendiary, and seriously funny, Deer Hunting with Jesus is a potent antidote to what Bageant dubs ‘the American hologram’— the televised, corporatised, virtual reality that distracts us from the insidious realities of American life.