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Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay

Vinegar Hill

by A. Manette Ansay

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I live in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, so the title is what originally drew me to this book. It's set not in Brooklyn, but in a conservative, predominantly Catholic area of the Midwest in the 1970s.
If I wanted to be snide, I'd say this is a book about how being forced to move in with your in-laws will destroy your marriage, but that's obviously too glib. There are a few finely drawn characters and a real struggle to keep love alive in an atmosphere that seems determined to kill it.
Worth a read, but be warned that I would have much preferred some additional denouement; the suddenness of the ending dampened my enthusiasm for the book, which I had enjoyed up to that point. ( )
  BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
I couldn't finish this one. So negative and depressing, and according to several other reviews, it ends the same. I have many other books to read and don't want to waste my time. Once again, I have no idea what Oprah sees in stories like this. ( )
  MahanaU | Feb 26, 2016 |
As a young girl, Ellen Grier had always believed that marriage was meant to be between two people who loved each other deeply. She and her husband James may have had a marriage of convenience, but that didn't necessarily mean that they couldn't come to love each other over time. Despite their initial differences, Ellen was determined to be a good wife for James - as dutiful and as proper a wife as either of their strict German Catholic families could possibly want.

Thirteen years pass, and it is now 1972. Circumstance has carried Ellen Grier and her family back to her and James' hometown of Holly's Field, Wisconsin. Dutifully accompanying her recently unemployed husband, Ellen has brought their two children - their daughter Amy, and their son Herbert - into the home of her in-laws on Vinegar Hill. This family of four now lives with James' parents - his domineering and abusive father Fritz and smotheringly attentive mother Mary-Margaret - and Ellen has begun to find their new living situation increasingly intolerable.

The house on Vinegar Hill is a loveless home - suffused with the settling dust of bitterness and mired in the harshness of routine. A home where calculated cruelty is a way of life, preserved and perpetuated in the service of an uncompromising, punitive and angry God. Behind this facade of false piety, there are sins and secrets in this place that have the strength to crush a vibrant young woman's passionate spirit. And it is here that Ellen must find the strength to endure, change, and grow in the pervasive darkness and bleakness of spirit that threatens to destroy everything she is and everyone she loves.

First of all, let me say that despite this being such a tragically heart-wrenching story, I really enjoyed reading the book. So many characters really resonated with me, that I avidly wanted to know what would happen to them next. I would definitely give this book an A! ( )
  moonshineandrosefire | Jan 3, 2016 |
I usually dislike Oprah choices, and this one is just OK. If you are in the mood for a quick read that doesn't make much difference in your life, read this book. ( )
  csobolak | Aug 2, 2015 |
I don't care what the description says, there is nothing "triumphant" about this.

I felt obligated to try an "Oprah's book club" book. I'm a woman, so these books are supposed to speak to me, right? Books I feel "obligated" to read are funny things. They either turn out to be amazing or dreadful. Guess which one this was.

I'm not sure what kind of audience this book was written for. It it bears any resemblance to your life, it's going to depress you further. If it doesn't, it's just going to depress you, end of story.

The one-dimensional characters plodded through their lives, lifting their heads long enough for a crop of flashback sequences that made it clear that their lives had always been full of the kind of bleak everyday horrors that made them the bleak horrible people they became. The story limps on to a conclusion that is no real conclusion at all. It just kind of stops. There is this vague suggestion that things are going to be better now, but it's almost impossible to believe it after the rest of the novel. ( )
  Hyzie | Oct 26, 2014 |
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Pendant from her chain her cross swung as she leant out the sun struck it. How could she weigh herself down by that sleek symbol? How stamp herself so volatile, so vagrant, with that image? -Virginia Wolff, Between the Acts

God isn't like a star that can go out. -Stewart O'Nan, In the Walled City
For Sylvia J. Ansay
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In the gray light of the kitchen,m Ellen sets the table for supper. keeping the chipped plate back for herself before lowering the rest in turn.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060897848, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:20 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In her debut novel, Manette Ansay writes of one woman's gradual realization that in order to reenvision her life she must break all the rules. It is 1972 and Ellen Grier finds herself back in the Midwestern hometown she thought she had escaped for good. Worse yet, she and her family have had to move in with her in-laws: narrow-minded, eccentric people who are as tough as the farm lives they have endured. Devout Catholics, they inhabit a world "as rigid, as precise as a church," and Ellen struggles to live by their motto: "A place for everything; everything in its place." But there is no place for Ellen -- fresh, funny, bright with passion -- in a house filled with the dust of routine and the ritual of prayer, the lingering bitterness of her in-laws' loveless marriage. She tries to be the model woman everyone expects her to be -- teaching at the Catholic school, coaxing her traveling-salesman husband through his increasingly irrational moods, caring for his aging parents -- but Ellen's hopes for her family's future collide with life in this bizarre household, and she worries over her wryly observant adolescent daughter and her timid young son. Encouraged by her friend Barb, a woman ostracized for being "modern" and "wild," Ellen begins to consider her own desires and dreams as well. Surrounded by the family's obsession with an exacting, angry God and the disquieting ghosts of the past, Ellen searches for a way to satisfy the demands of this rural community and its traditions until, at last, she discovers the family's darkest secret, one that frees her and changes her life forever.… (more)

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