Review by Camille Germain
Hillbilly Queer takes us on an adventure: son and father. Father, hillbilly; son, queer. During a family dinner the son, J.R. begrudgingly agrees to go on a road trip with his father to his high school reunion in Missouri. They leave Indiana and head out to see the town in which his father grew up. Throughout this road trip we get a firsthand glimpse of their relationship. And that relationship acts as a symbolic representation of the dichotomy overlapping the United States in its present state. This memoir by J.R. Jamison is a pure and thoughtful reflection of growth and identity. Jamison knows how to make his readers feel like they are part of the scene; even in the introduction, we are there with him. His subject matter is something not everyone has experienced, but his language and use of scene pulls them right in.
This memoir is about the little things. How body language can manifest a whole dialogue. How listening to someone different can teach us about ourselves. That there can be untold powerful stories where we least expect them. Jamison does this by stacking internal monologue and quick dialogue with his father and other guest characters. He oftentimes proves his internal monologue wrong by following through with communication. He is who we all have been: someone living in our own experience internally.
I can relate to the pressure of wanting to teach family members the reasons why supporting someone like Trump can be harmful, wanting to shake them or scream at them. But the only way to communicate and teach is by experiencing that family member’s experience. Hillbilly Queer shares with us how we cannot try to change the people we love, but we can meet them halfway and try to teach them through connection and empathy. This story takes its readers through the “redneck” territory of the Midwest and creates conflict that us, the readers, are able to actually relate to. There is an included Epilogue that brings the story full circle and shows us how that trip, their time to connect, had rebuilt their relationship and taught each other. Jamison’s father had to learn on his own, but embraced what harm the Trump administration was causing because of his relationship with his son who is a person directly affected by the actions of the Trump administration.
Jamison shows us the unexpected ways a father’s love can change the narrative. How his father loved him in any moment, even when he imagined the worst. His father was an enigma throughout the story where I kept finding respect and admiration for him despite my personal disagreement in many of his ideals and political choices. The one part of the book where his father truly came to life for me was when he accepted Jamison for being gay: “He brought up the Bible. And Hell. But told me he didn’t believe I’d go there as long as I did good in this world. He pulled my hand from under my knee and held it. He leaned into me and touched my forehead with his and told me he loved me. I nodded my head in agreement and the spotlight was too bright, it seared right through my eyes, and released the tears.”
This memoir was a refreshing look at family relationships and the challenges of our society and how they impact us and those relationships. We get glimpses of Jamison’s stories of being gay and the challenges he faced, but I wanted more. I truly hope to read future memoirs by J.R. Jamison. This is his first memoir, and I know there are many more stories waiting to be told. Not only is he talented and educated, he is a writer who treats his readers with respect and knows how to use language to his advantage.