Vinegar Hill
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Vinegar Hill

3.29 of 5 stars 3.29  ·  rating details  ·  17,185 ratings  ·  699 reviews
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 brou...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 11th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published May 12th 1980)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Shannon
What is it with Oprah? Really. I don't always know when I'm reading an Oprah book (I come into possession of a lot of books with no covers somehow), but after I read this one I just knew it was on her list, had to be. It was very bleak, as most of her selections are, and had very little to make me want to finish it. If I hadn't been very bored at the time I probably wouldn't have. It's exhausting to read about constant sadness, and I hate stories that feature weak, mama's boy husbands.

Just once...more
Nicki
This just might be the worst book that I've ever read. Or at least the worst book that I've read in the last few years. I'm only adding it because I'm making a new shelf for books that I read in 2008 and this is one of them. I never would have picked it out myself but a co-worker brought it to me to read - so I felt obligated. Not very well written and depressing.
Lori
I'm giving this novel 3 stars only because of the quality of the writing. The actual story itself is morose, and rather self-indulgent... I'm afraid that novelists often feel that to write well they must include and focus upon the truly horrible aspects of life while ignoring any of the light. There was not one character in the novel I could relate to; they all seemed extraordinarily weak and childish. When Ellen, the pseudo main character, finally decides to use her backbone, the novel is sudde...more
Karyl
I read this book in just two days. Obviously it is a very quick read, and I kept wanting to pick the book up again and read a few pages. Yes, this book is bleak and depressing, but it seems very realistic. Before divorce was as common as marriage, people stayed together no matter what, regardless of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse -- all of which occur to the women in this book. I find the end to be very hopeful; the wife decides to make a change right as her daughter stands on the brink of...more
Debbie
I’m crunching here at the end of the year trying to meet my goals on the book challenge. I chose a book with less than 300 pages and hoped for the best. This book had been sitting on my shelf for a little while and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. This was actually a good read and I’m going to give it 4 stars.

Vinegar Hill is one of the most appropriately named books I’ve read in a while. The Grier family is a family that is completely affected, influenced, formed, created and responding to t...more
Melanie Moore
I now know why Oprah gave away cars and other amazing gifts to the guest of her show. It was to combat the depression that the members of her book club had encountered over the years. If you see the Oprah’s Book Club logo on a book you are about to crack open, take your Zoloft now.

Now, hear me out. I have never been disappointed with a book from the Oprah Book Club list. Drowning Ruth, Gap Creek, Jewel, The Pilot’s Wife. They are always amazing stories that will bring on a slue of intense emotio...more
Margery
Depressing.
The writing is repetitive, and the visuals are uncreative and obviously depressing. She hits you over the head with the misery of her characters, but to what point?
Shockingly mean and violent events abound, but again I saw no point. The only character that was suprred to action by the violent events is not even alive in the time line of the novel. We never meet her and it is only through the fog of time that she manages to "help" our main character. And that help is feeble, uncelebrat...more
Cindy
To me, Oprah's Book Club seal of approval guarantees me at least a few of the following:

1) Female, middle-aged protagonist, typically a mother
2) Generally bleak and depressing
3) Emotional and/or physical abuse
4) Jackass husband
5) Horrible children
6) Death

Vinegar Hill offers 5 of the 6 - no horrible children. It's a very quick read - maybe not light enough fare for the beach but for the subway ride to and from work, it's perfect. A brief synopsis: Ellen + husband + their 2 kids are forced to mov...more
Simi
This is a bitter and depressing story about a woman who has to live with her furious and acrid in-laws and finds herself further estranged from her husband. She has two children whom she fights to raise well, but cannot in face of such utter hatred. The story itself was absorbing (I read it in one sitting in three hours from 11 pm to 2 am) but it was not very well structured or well written. The ending was disappointing, not for what happened, but for the way it was written. It felt like the aut...more
April
I read this a few years ago so this review is not exactly "fresh" but I still remember how this book affected me. At the time I read the book I enjoyed it.. I couldn't put it down because you could just feel the tension building within the house and the family. It was like the author put a microscope on one family's situation and homelife and honed in on it and exposed it in the form of this book for everyone to see. It was at times disturbing - I wanted to sometimes step into the book and becom...more
Kellie
This books takes place in the 70’s in the mid-west. Ellen and James are married and have 2 children, Amy and Herbert. Struggling financially, James decides they must move in with his parents. I don’t know if it was typical of the time or not, but James parents, Mary Margaret and Fritz, are the most sour, mean spirited people depicted in a book. I should have known, this being an Oprah book, that it would be sad, depressing and include a dysfunctional family. I do not see anything great about it....more
Rebecca
This book is about a strict Catholic's family dysfunction--but quite interesting. If you find it fascinating how people used to stay unhappily married for LIFE (despite verbal and/or physical abuse) and base the rationale as their religion then read this.
My favorite part of the book is when the one of the characters looks down on another female character when she comments that she no longer has any desire for her husband in the bedroom. The other woman then belittles the woman saying that she...more
Rebecca Scaglione (Love at First Book)
Oprah really does a great job with her book picks, and Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay is no exception.

Ellen’s husband James lost his job, and instead of being proactive to find a new one, he moves them and their two children, Amy and Herbert, to his parents’ house in another state.

Wouldn’t be too terrible except that James’s dad is abusive both physically to James and verbally to everyone. And his mother is not nice at all to anyone in the family except for her beloved James, her baby who cann...more
Chantal
A. Manette Ansay’s Vinegar Hill is a novel (it says so on the cover), yet each chapter is essentially a short tragic story unto itself. Alice Hoffman’s Local Girls is a collection of interconnected stories narrated in alternating voices, first and third-person -- one critic has suggested that, had Hoffman taken the time to coherently narrate her stories, Local Girls could be a novel. I wonder.
To be fair to both authors, I need to praise the writing. Both Ansay and Hoffman write masterful prose...more
Michael Jenkins
Normally I do not like Oprah book recommendations, we differ in taste. However I wanted to read this book based on a friend review and needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The one thing that caught my attention while reading this book was the language. The story was very evocative, it was almost like you were actually a character going through the journey with them all. Ellen Grier voice was haunting, the trials she went through as a mother & wife was heartbreaking. I can tell that s...more
Christine Stavridis
Emotionally this was a difficult book to read. I put it down a few times but am glad I kept reading and finished it.

The story is told primairily through the voice of Ellen, mother and wife. However, the author is able to offer us glimpses into the minds of the other characters as well. This allow us to understand how two people can experience the seem events but in very different ways. Our experiences in life really can color our whole perception of reality. At times in the story I was shocked t...more
Meredith
How do you rate a book that you can't put down, that you dream about and that disturbs you for days? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I liked the writing and plot of this book, but it cast a creepy aura over my life for a few days.

This novel is set in rural Wisconsin in the 1970's in a community of patriachal hellfire-and-damnation Christians. I like to believe that these types of abusive cultures don't, and never did, exist and perhaps that self-imposed naivite is what made the book so upse...more
Chella LaNiece
Vinegar Hill is one of the saddest books I've ever read. Set in 1972 in Wisconsin, we meet James, his wife Ellen, their children Amy & Bert and James' parents Mary Margaret and Fritz. James & Ellen are forced by financial circumstances to move back in with James' parents, temporarily. The author gives an account of events of one year with this family, from different view points of the different family members while also giving us a haunted back story. The book is filled with stories of r...more
Jackie
Haunting and sad. i read this in the month of October, just a few days from Halloween. At one point I caught myself thinking that this was the perfect, scary, ghost story of a book. Ellen, by choice of her religious upbringing, marries into a family who is haunted by secrets that have ripped them apart spiritually and psychologically. Only bitter meanness is left. That the third generation, Ellen's children, are being affected, is her motivation to stop the cycle. She nearly loses herself before...more
Olivia
Grief upon grief upon grief. How much abuse and grief can a person take? Seems like Oprah really likes books where women are abused in every way imaginable. For anyone that has lived with men of, or in, this generation the story rings true. 1972 may be the last year of the monster male, at least for Ellen. For those of us raised in a household of stressed silences because of over active emotions and past circumstances, much of the material is completely relatable. The writing style of A. Manette...more
Mainon
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...more
Dana
Accordng to the Oprah Book Club reviews I have seen, most were negative. I decided to take a stab at one. WOW, now I completely understand why.

In short this book is chaper after chapter of family dysfunction. Although I appreciate the author's sense of style where the ingredients are sprinkled throughout and eventually the full recipe is revealed. The end result is a tasteless tale.

If you like books that leave you feeling mentally drained and you cannot help but skimming the last few pages bec...more
Christine Boyer
Nov 14, 2011 Christine Boyer rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: NO ONE!
I should have known better. When I saw it was an "Oprah Book Club" book I should have just put it back down. But no, I had to subject myself to the agony of an Oprah favorite. Luckily, it was short. All the characters had only one dimension: despair. Ms. Ansay - remember, humans are multi-dimensional, your characters must be as well. After a while, their sorror, angst, and depression seemed like a joke, almost gratuitous as some point. You even made little Bert have "issues" by the end! Who woul...more
Margaret
Dec 29, 2013 Margaret added it
Shelves: 2013
I thought this was well-written. Ellen is a woman questioning her decisions, her upbringing, her church and her husband and his family and then doing what she has to do. I liked how coming to a choice wasn't easy for her and I liked hearing what her daughter, son, husband, and mother and father in law thought. One of my favorite characters was her friend Barb, who listens yet forces Ellen to consider the possibilities as Barb has gone through some tough decisions herself.
Clacie
I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it. It had been on my book shelf for at least 4 years, & I finally got to it because I'm reading my books alphabetically by author & this was the next one. I was surprised by how much I liked it. I found it easy to read & I could relate to Ellen. I'd probably recommend it, but doubt it's everyone's cup of tea. Despite thinking it would free up a space on my shelf in the beginning, I'm going to keep it. It was that good.
Christie
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 depr...more
Lisa Alexa
This is an awesome read! I have read it twice and I loved the realism and naturalism portrayed within he text. I found it under oprahs first book list and fell in love withe the mundane depression of living with in-laws and the decision the protagonist makes freeing us to believe that economical situations have hope and promise to self.
Gloria
Vinegar Hill is a very apt name for this story. Maybe Vitriol Hill might be even better. Ellen Grier and her two children exist in an environment of hate, bitterness, violence with little to keep them sane. Set in the 1970's against a backdrop of the strict teachings of the Catholic Church of the time, this story is definitely a grind. Ellen's husband has lost his job and their only hope is to move in with his parents. She gamely deals with the psyche-destroying situation but as her husband gets...more
Michelle
Nov 02, 2008 Michelle rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone with ample access to antidepressants.
I can't say that I liked this book....actually I hated it. It made me cry and was the most depressing book I have read in a very long time. That said...it was one of the most well-written books I have read.

It was emotionally-true, insightful and a horrible experience to read as it struck at the core of me, sharply.
Darlene
This was an interesting book somewhat somber and suspenseful. It was a look at Ellen Grier's life after her huband moves the family back to their hometown, Vinegar Hill, and into the same house with his parents. She begins to learn many unfavorable things about her in-laws and her husband and their dysfunctional family.
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A. Manette Ansay grew up in Wisconsin among 67 cousins and over 200 second cousins. She is the author of six novels, including Good Things I Wish You (July, 2009), Vinegar Hill, an Oprah Book Club Selection, and Midnight Champagne, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as a short story collection, Read This and Tell Me What It Says, and a memoir, Limbo. Her awards include...more
More about A. Manette Ansay...
Blue Water Midnight Champagne Good Things I Wish You Sister River Angel

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“If we just had some time to ourselves, we could talk to each other the way we used to. Maybe about nothing in particular at first, but even that would be a start.” 5 likes
“It is a lonely thing, remembering for someone else.” 1 likes
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