In a stark, troubling, yet ultimately triumphant celebration of self-determination, award-winning author A. Manette Ansay re-creates a stifling world of guilty and pain, and the tormented souls who inhabit it. It is 1972 when circumstance carries Ellen Grier and her family back to Holly's Field, Wisconsin. Dutifully accompanying her newly unemployed husband, Ellen has brought her two children into the home of her in-laws on Vinegar Hill--a loveless house suffused with the settling dust of bitterness and routine--where calculated cruelty is a way of life preserved and perpetuated in the service of a rigid, exacting and angry God. Behind a facade of false piety, there are sins and secrets in this place that could crush a vibrant young woman's passionate spirit. And here Ellen must find the straight to endure, change, and grow in the all-pervading darkness that threatens to destroy everything she is and everyone she loves.
Oprah Book Club® Selection, November 1999: Vinegar Hill is an appropriate address for the characters who populate A. Manette Ansay's novel of the same name. After all, when Ellen Grier and her family return to the rural hamlet of Holly's Field, Wisconsin, it's not exactly a happy homecoming. Her husband, James, has been laid off from his job in Illinois. And for the moment, the family has moved in with Ellen's in-laws, Fritz and Mary-Margaret, an unhappy pair who dislike their daughter-in-law almost as much as they despise each other:
The first time Ellen sat at this table she was twenty years old, bright-cheeked after a spring afternoon spent walking along the lakefront with James, planning their upcoming wedding. It was 1959 and she was eager to make a good impression. She didn't know then that Mary-Margaret disliked her, that she was considered Jimmy's mistake. Thirteen years later, in 1972, Ellen is back at the table with no escape in sight. Both she and her husband do find work. Yet James seems to settle a tad too easily into his old life, and shows no interest in finding a place of their own. Even worse, his job takes him away from home for weeks at a time, leaving Ellen to cope with her abusive in-laws.
In Vinegar Hill Ansay paints a searing portrait of the Midwest's dark side, of a rural culture infected with despair and ruled over by an unforgiving God. Yet she does hold out a grain of hope, too. Just as Ellen seems permanently entangled in familial desperation, she makes a surprising discovery about James's long-dead grandmother--a woman whose rebellious spirit inspires Ellen to rescue herself and her loved ones from the impinging darkness. This late-breaking redemption doesn't cancel out the preceding unhappiness: Vinegar Hill remains a tough, uncompromising tale, one that requires some fortitude to read. But those with the heart for it will be rewarded with fine, spare prose and a hopeful ending. --Alix Wilber
share (USA: ID) (2008/08/18):
an awesome touching story - one a lot of people could probably relate to! A fast read too!
Johonna (USA: SD) (2008/08/31):
I couldn't really get into this book. I don't know if I was in the wrong frame of mind, mood, whatever. It just kind of dragged on and then abruptly ended. Not a great book, in my opinion. I guess I don't know why Oprah wanted everyone to read this one. I could relate to the main character's struggle with living a life that doesn't quite meet your expectations, but it does get monotonous with the details of mundane every day life.
Allie (USA: AL) (2012/09/09):
I really like this book. I was unsure about it at first but as I continued to read, I found myself unable to put it down. The pages turned themselves, despite the fact that it is mostly just everyday things. But thrown in there among the dinners that are full of hate and frustration, there are deep dark family secrets that are hiding. Through flashbacks and different characters you begin to see that the main characters are so terribly flawed because of the experiences THEY endured as children or young adults. Instead of getting past those terrible things, they carried them over to their own children and lives. I was so worried about Amy and Bert through the whole thing. I wanted to shake their father and make him stop living in a fog under his parent's thumbs.