Essay — From the November 2016 issue

In The Hollow

The changing face of Appalachia—and its role in the presidential race

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Years ago, I lived in Montana, a land of purple sunsets, clear streams, and snowflakes the size of silver dollars drifting through the cold air. There were no speed limits and you could legally drive drunk. My small apartment in Missoula had little privacy. In order to write, I rented an off-season fishing cabin on Rock Creek, a one-room place with a bed and a bureau. I lacked the budget for a desk. My idea was to remove a sliding door from a closet in my apartment and place it over a couple of hastily cobbled-together sawhorses.

I sought help from a Mexican-American buddy named Freddy. We lashed the closet door to the roof of my car and drove twenty miles out of town toward the head of Rock Creek. Midway there, a gust hit the front of the car, lifting the closet door with enough force to snap the rope. The door flew onto the side of the road and I steered to the shoulder. Freddy and I walked to the ditch. My future desk was now bent in the middle, not quite broken but splintered to ruin. Freddy shook his head.

“Pine Mountain, Kentucky, 2016,” from Speak Your Piece, published by Here Press in September. All photographs by Stacy Kranitz from her ongoing series on Appalachia

“Pine Mountain, Kentucky, 2016,” from Speak Your Piece, published by Here Press in September. All photographs by Stacy Kranitz from her ongoing series on Appalachia

“Things like this don’t happen to guys from Connecticut,” he said.

We knew it wasn’t strictly true. Bad luck happens to everyone, even in Connecticut. Still, I understood what he meant. Neither of us was a WASP, benefiting from the convergence of class, religion, race, and place. As educated American males we both had a leg up, and I was white, a boon in the grand scheme of life. In Montana, however, we banded together because cowboy culture didn’t suit us. Neither of us skied, hunted, fly-fished, rode horses, or herded cattle. I could pass easier than he could, but Freddy and I were always the odd men out.

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’s books include My Father, the Pornographer and No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home, as well as three works of fiction.

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