- Oprah's Book Club Selection
Vinegar Hill Oprah Book #28 Paperback – Mar 1 1998
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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
From Publishers Weekly
Set in 1972, Ansay's debut novel revolves around Ellen Grier's struggle for liberation-liberation from her marriage to James, from her virtual enslavement to her sanctimonious, cruel in-laws and from what she see as the stultifying demands of her religion, Roman Catholicism. Financial difficulties have forced James and Ellen, along with their two children, to move back to the small Wisconsin town where they grew up and where they now share an acrimonious and joyless life with James's parents. Virtually every character is victimized by a private misery that causes pain and alienation and that in turn victimizes others. Ansay, who teaches creative writing at Vanderbilt, is adept at delineating these worlds of suffering, and her language can be both apt and beautiful. But she offers too many descriptions of the nightmares and waking bad dreams that seem to afflict all of her characters, and the reader begins to share the sense of being caught in a bad dream. As the story concentrates more on Ellen's search for identity-a familiar tale presented here in a familiar way-this sense of nightmare is intensified by an impression of deja vu. Though uneven, the novel offers glimpses of Ansay's potential to deliver a more coherent book next time.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
I also don't buy the argument that the book was realistic because, in the '70s women had no other choices than to stay in unhappy marital and family situations. I would have respected Ellen's attempt to keep the family together if the author had shared Ellen's fears, confusion and ambivalence throughout the story. Instead, Ellen continues to stay with her dysfunctional inlaws and depressed husband bearing a flatness and resignation which frustrated me. I can agree that Ellen had FEWER choices than women have now, but she could have sought some type of counseling. She had a job, some money, and presumably some health insurance. So what was the point of the book? Was it a historical novel written to help us all understand what the '70s were supposedly like for a woman in her position?
The only reason I gave this book any stars is because it did hold my interest--I was waiting for something significant to occur, something which would enlighten me. Maybe I could learn something from the book if I saw Ellen change. Not a chance.
Yes, the readers who complained about the book being "bleak" or "whiney" did miss something: the growing awareness of the intelligent, far-from-whiney heroine, Ellen, who finally comes into her own at the end of the book. This does NOT have an unhappy ending. In fact, the ending is absolutely exquisite, but I will not give it away here.
It is a book about abuse - handed down from a despicable man to his entire family. His wife - Mary Margaret - is what I like to call a "swamp" - you could get lost in her bitterness, her cynicism, her bigotry, her hypochondria. Yes, she, too, is a product of abuse, but that doesn't excuse her manipulative, self-serving, constant diatribe that poisons the air around her.
Nevertheless, Ellen is a fairly objective observer in all this mayhem. She is like a swimmer, trying to break the surface so she can breath. Finally, she does, and it is such a welcome moment. I just loved her for her backbone - and her compassion even for her nasty in-laws. Every character is drawn beautifully.
This is a great women's book. What happened to the women of this country being grateful for a glimpse into a real woman's life? Guess what, critics? Abuse of women and children still exists. It seems there is some kind of backlash going on, a return to the former women-hating-women routine pre-Women's Movement. I, for one, can't have too many books about women - their joys, their struggles. I, too, have some criticism of Oprah's Book Club, but not because she chooses books that portray women's issues. That's one of the best things about her choices. Let's get together again, my women friends, not tear each other down.
The fact that the content of the book is of a depressing nature was not what bothered me about this story as I have read plenty of books where the content was very dark and disparaging. It is the fact that the author made the characters so unlikeable and also the fact that the book was so very disjointed moving from past to present back to past in a way that was so jarring. I simply could not get into the characters and the story with this author's dull writing. Note to author-- "If you are going to tell a story about dysfunctional characters well at least do it in such a way where the reader wants to continue reading instead of boring us to tears with sluggish protagonists and story lines".
Another thing that drove me crazy about this book is all of the characters are just slogging their way through life in a dream-like state. All of them are in less than ideal situations in their lives, yet, they do nothing to better themselves. Also because the author does not make us care for the characters in any way, they just seem despicable.
I am not going to discuss the plot or characters as that has been done enough in all the prior reviews here, but, I am going to say that this book is so very very overrated with a writing style that could make an insomniac sleep uninterrupted for days!
Ellen's mother-in-law was a pathetic figure who accepted a life of abuse and despair with her domineering and miserable husband. Together they lived a status-quo existence where they rarely communicated. Each one lived in his/her own world. They did not decorate for Christmas and Ellen's children were not allowed to play and interact as normal children.
Finally, Ellen sees the light with the help of her friend; she decides to leave her husband and his parent's home. She takes the kids and moves out to make it on her own... a victorious ending!
Most recent customer reviews
Une œuvre dramatique dans laquelle chaque personnage impose son amertume et sa rancœur aux membres de sa famille. Lecteurs déprimés ou claustrophobes s'abstenir...Published 14 months ago by Manon Corriveau Côté
If you ever had a bad in-law experience, this book might help to put things in perspective. It could be worse, you could have in-laws like the one's in this book.Published on June 26 2004 by M. Alther
What is it that holds one within a family, a marriage, outside of love and duty? Lack of courage perhaps, or misguided religious inclinations. Read morePublished on June 21 2004 by Polkadotty
We all know people who struggle to stand up for themselves, who get caught in lifestyles we think we'd never tolerate. Read morePublished on June 11 2004 by Student at Dutch Fork Middle School
The extremely normal and familiar sirtuations that the main character in this novel faces are portrayed fabulously by the author. Read morePublished on May 28 2004
What a boring, depressing novel!
It's an easy read, but I personally didn't get anything from it. The story does have some interesting characters but not much happens to them. Read more
This author has the potential of writing well & has previously. Perhaps it was simply the plot (or lack of) that just couldn't keep me captivated. Read morePublished on May 4 2004 by Amazon Customer
The writing was excellent in this book, but at times I found the story a little unbelievable. Still, I would highly recommend this book, if for nothing else the fact that it was... Read morePublished on Feb. 6 2004
If you like books with a lot of detail, this is it.Besides from being a very nice person, Ms. Ansay writes beautifully and keeps you guessing, very nice book, I recamend itPublished on July 2 2003 by A