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Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay
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Vinegar Hill

by A. Manette Ansay

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Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
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 |
Mediocre. I couldn't make it past the first three pages. I tried twice. It was just not my style - too boring. ( )
  mreed61 | Sep 15, 2014 |
Narrator read in a depressing tone.
  Carolinejyoung | Sep 20, 2013 |

It's the 1970s, and James Grier has lost his job; accordingly, he takes his family to live with his elderly parents in the small Wisconsin town of Holly's Field. For his wife Ellen and their two children this is a descent into a pit of misery, for James's father is -- and always has been -- viciously abusive, and this has the effect of poisoning all relationships between those around him. In the course of Vinegar Hill we learn this and a whole string of similar secrets, many of which seem to share the theme that mere acts of Fate, and foolishly considered responses to them, can determine so much of our lives -- as for example the revelation that James and Ellen are married only because years ago she accepted a lift from him, the car got stuck overnight in the snow, and, even though they hadn't so much as kissed, the only course left open to them by the prurient faux-"respectability" of others was to wed.

In essence, then, Vinegar Hill is a sort of portrait of pain -- primarily Ellen's, but the rest of the cast are suffering too, mainly because of each other. There's some good writing, marred every now and then by something obnoxiously pretentious ("Sometimes he feels his mind swallow him whole, the way a snake swallows a plain, white egg" -- snakes presumably having quite different ways of swallowing eggs of other colours). While reading this book I certainly didn't feel I was wasting my time, but when I put it down I found myself a tad frustrated that I'd had to read an entire novel for the sake of what's really just a vignette.
( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
A circular story where the characters continue in a tight and slow moving miasma. Ansay keeps the reader uncertain of the outcome and allows for some real frustration to build. Set in the 1960's and with patriarchal and religious sensibilities guiding thier decision making, it's hard for a modern reader to accept the slow pace of change and lack of action on the part of the various characters: there ends up being just enough history revealed to allow for some sympathy for most of them, but not all. ( )
  quirkylibrarian | Jun 17, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
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
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:33 -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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