Bag o’ Books: ‘Heartland’ by Sarah Smarsh


Three thoughts about ‘Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in he Richest Country on Earth

• I’m biased. Sarah Smarsh and I both wrote for the website back in the aughts before our careers took us separate places. I knew from her previous writing that this book would be smart and incisive on matters of income inequality. What I didn’t expect: That it would be so beautiful. It’s possible to have lived through tough times and circumstances and still find moments and ideas worth preserving. The tone here could be rueful; it’s elegaic.

• Lots of people think being poor is a choice, but lots of poor folks have that choice thrust upon them: It’s easier to graduate high school, for example, if you aren’t hungry, or if you get to go to just one high school. But if you move from school to school to school — Smarsh was in eight schools by ninth grade — it’s harder to have the stability most people need to find success. Smarsh has become a success, but she’s too smart to believe that because she made it out it’s a simple matter for most folks. She’s the exception rather than the rule.

• I won’t lie. I felt a sense of dread during the reading of most of this. Why? Because I expect 2019 to bring a recession. Because my line of work — freelance writing — has brought me some success and yet feels very tenuous. I want to give my son the chance to be successful. I worry how close I am, how close most of us who are in the middle class or self-identify with a middle class mentality, actually are to living a life that combines hard work, deprivation and insecurity. I’m terrified that Smarsh’s past is the future for many Americans. I’m terrified it’s the future I’m going to give my family.

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