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Vinegar Hill

3.36  ·  Rating Details ·  24,696 Ratings  ·  900 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, 256 pages
Published March 1st 1998 by Harper Perennial (first published September 12th 1994)
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Melanie Moore
Sep 01, 2013 Melanie Moore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ybi-yri-mission
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
May 20, 2010 Cindy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 14, 2009 Nicki rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: misc-fiction, 2008
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.
Oct 17, 2013 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 22, 2009 Karyl rated it liked it
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
Jul 20, 2011 Lori rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 09, 2009 Margery rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
This book is definitely not for everyone. It is stark and depressing. The characters are not likable. I would only read bits at a time, which is why it took me so long to finish it. However, it still resonated with me. For those who have grown up in a dysfunctional family, have been in a dysfunctional marriage, or have had negative experiences with strange, manipulative religion, you might appreciate this book.

The author creates a perpetual winter with this story, both in setting and within the
Mar 07, 2010 Dana rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 16, 2008 Simi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bridgit Barger
I was disappointingly let down by "Vinegar Hill."
Although the writing was solid and the characters well fleshed-out, I couldn't help but think that the back stories on some of the characters were too vague, and that the plot was unimaginative: a woman is discouraged by a troubled marriage and feels helpless. It all felt like it had been done before, and "Vinegar Hill" didn't really bring anything else to the table.
Jo Ann
I picked this one up at a used book store on impulse, when I checked it out on GR I saw its ratings were on the low side, but my inner voice kept telling me to give it a chance. So glad I did. It's a tough read but so well worth it.
This downer is not my cup of tea. Sure made me glad I wasn't a '60s-era Catholic wife, though.
pink (not just another shade of red)
Bitter. Dark. Haunting.

Vinegar Hill is so, so much darker than expected when I first picked up the book from a Book Sale. It tells of a story of a woman living in her own stifling world of marriage, religion, and expectations.

Ellen Grier steps out of her in-laws house every night. For all appearances, Ellen looks like any other wife and mother out for her daily walk and the house looks like any other house, which shadows visible on its window any other old married couple. But, no. There are uns
Feb 27, 2010 April rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: oprah-s-bk-club
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
Connie N.
For those who rated this highly, I'm not quite sure what they found to rave about. (?) This book left an overall feeling of hopelessness and discouragement. It's about an extended midwestern German family of an older time (not quite sure when) and their sense of living according to God's word and their sense of duty to family. That way of life was often stern and forbidding, especially if you were unlucky enough to be forced into a loveless and unhappy marriage and/or born into a miserable child ...more
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
Jan 22, 2008 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Manik Sukoco
I read this book in just two days. Obviously it is a very quick read. I made it quick because it 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 puberty. One hopes that she has saved her daughter in t ...more
Judy Howard
Apr 09, 2017 Judy Howard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Vinegar Hill is a book I have read three times now. It is about a wife, mother, trying to cope with a husband who is dysfunctional. They have to live with his parents because he has lost his job. I think Vinegar Hill is a great book. Read it in 2008, 2016, and now 2017

May 10, 2015 L rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Oprah and I have never been on the same wavelength when it comes to literature, and I didn't realize this book was one of Oprah's blessed, which may have been enough to dissuade me. This book is so boring that there really isn't anything to review, it involves a very sad protagonist existing with her equally sad husband and his warped family, in the 1950's. Even the children are sad and unlovable as characters. There is the usual plight of women in that time, and also the theme of crazy in laws ...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
Rebecca Scaglione
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
Oct 30, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 24, 2014 Hyzie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 29, 2012 Erin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Dreary, depressing, bleak, grim... sour, really. It's no wonder the book is called Vinegar Hill.

In a nutshell: A family of miserable characters sit around day after day, eating dry roast beef, and think about how much they hate each other. In case you are still considering picking this up (because it somehow earned Oprah’s magical stamp of approval), I have selected one sentence from the book that really sums it up:

“James will be quiet from having slept all day, his eyes glazed, his face still
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
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
Oct 24, 2013 Jackie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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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...

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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.” 8 likes
“It is a lonely thing, remembering for someone else.” 6 likes
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