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Vinegar Hill

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  28,082 ratings  ·  1,064 reviews
In a stark, troubling, yet ultimately triumphant celebration of self-determination, award-winning author A. Manette Ansay re-creates a stifling world of guilt 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 broug ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 11th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published September 12th 1994)
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Average rating 3.39  · 
Rating details
 ·  28,082 ratings  ·  1,064 reviews

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Melanie Moore
Sep 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
The Dusty Jacket
There are many ways to describe Ellen Grier: wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, caregiver, teacher. All of these different roles and yet Ellen still feels incomplete…invisible almost. She had been happy in Illinois in their rented house, but after her husband lost his job, she and her family are back in their hometown of Holly’s Field, Wisconsin and living with her in-laws at 512 Vinegar Hill—a harsh, loveless, and cold home filled with secrets. She wants to be happy, but finds her ...more
Jun 22, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 09, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
"What she wanted now was to frighten him with her own flesh, with what he had rejected; to make him feel ashamed the way he made her feel ashamed."

Chosen for Book Riot's 2018 Read Harder Challenge - "an Oprah Book Club selection".

To set the scene: we're in the midwest United States, in the 1970s. Ellen, James and their two children move back in with James's parents after he loses his job. He seems content to stay there, oh, forever, and Ellen could not conceive of anything worse. Their relation
Jul 20, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Mar 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
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
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. ...more
Feb 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 29, 2012 rated it did not like it
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 stil
Mar 24, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Manik Sukoco
Dec 30, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Jun 16, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Wendy Welch
Feb 26, 2009 rated it liked it
What I learned from this book: that it is possible to be a beautiful writer and use your powers for evil rather than good. This book has WONDERFUL sentences, lovely flow, interesting angles, and it's so bloody depressing! I started skimming about 2/3 through because it was so depressing. A real mood piece, lovely images.

Do what I did and keep a really nice chocolate bar on hand for when you finish. It will help keep you from sliding into utter despair.
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.
This downer is not my cup of tea. Sure made me glad I wasn't a '60s-era Catholic wife, though. ...more
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
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
Ellie Ness
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
It has been a long time since I read The Women's Room but my partner then told me it was making me so angry that I should stop reading it.

Vinegar Hill was similarly enraging.

The characters in Vinegar Hill are so lacking in charm and empathy that the atmosphere is poisonous. The reasons why the characters behave as they do is explained towards the end of the book but the reasons are no excuse for the way things were in this household. Anyone wanting to know why equity in relationships is a *goo
Jan 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone whose life isn't already depressing enough
Nothing cheerful about this book, just one more reason to think, "So this what a really shitty, trapped existence with a loser husband and hateful in-laws is like..." If this is the life you're leading, this book isn't a mirror, it's a shovel whacked aginst your face. If you're not living this life, it's a "there but for the grace of God" kind of book. Can't say I enjoyed it but I got through it, just like the people in the book. ...more
Beth Carpenter
Mar 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Though the plot was heavy, depressing, and upsetting, I found the story compelling and engaging. I wanted to find out why the characters were the way they were, why they behaved the way they did, and that's what drove me on to finish it. I had to believe there was hope in store for the main character, Ellen, and her children. And thank God, in the end, there was. ...more
Judy Howard
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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

Kathryn Boyce
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Personally found ill written, for such a simple read.
I would not recommend this book to anyone.
May 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
The title of this book could not be more fitting. This is not a happy story and fills the reader with bitterness and anxiety and anger. But it is the story of three, at most times two, generations of women and how they are treated by their families. Looking at the story with eyes wide open its probably more honest than we want to know or experience. I have to give it four stars because of the feelings, although quite sour, it provoked.
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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

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