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Vinegar Hill (Oprah's bookclub) Paperback – 7 Sep 2000

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; New edition edition (7 Sept. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752838202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752838205
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,820,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

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 20 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,


'A modern-day Little House on the Prarie gone mad... Manette Ansay is a powerful storyteller with lyrical gifts and a wry, observant eye' (Amy Tan)

'Ansay transcends both feminist epic and Midwestern gothic to achieve, finally, the lunar world of tragedy. This world is lit by the measured beauty of her prose, and the book's final line is worth the pain it takes to get there' (New Yorker) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book really hit home.The story is sad but inspirational at the same time.I really felt for all the characters in this book.I would really reccommend this book to any one
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By A Customer on 27 Nov. 1999
Format: Paperback
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x964edc18) out of 5 stars 309 reviews
71 of 74 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x965007b0) out of 5 stars Very Enjoyable 1 Feb. 2000
By Denise M. - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Before purchasing this book, I read a number of customer reviews on The recurring theme was that the book was depressing and that the main character was weak. Notwithstanding a vast number of 'negative' reviews, I purchased the book and was pleasantly surprised. I found that the only way to fully appreciate the story was to view the situation from the standpoint of a 30 something year old woman, living in a small Mid-western farming town, conservative Catholic during the early 1970's. Essentially, I viewed the book as a story about the struggle of a woman to establish and preserve her own identity in the face of outside forces i.e., family, religion, in-laws, expectations etc. I basically saw is as a conflict between what she should do as a good "Christian wife and mother" and what she needed to do as a person and how she ultimately resolved that conflict. I also saw Ellen as a woman who was trapped by those outside forces and expections. Although many reviewers of this book thought that Ellen was somewhat weak and spineless, I felt that she had an enormous amount of strength to do what she needed to do in light of the pressures of outside expectations. I think that the base example was when she went to talk to her sister about leaving James. Her sisters response was one of shock and disbelief and her sisters advice was to have another child. I think that Ellen would truly have been weak if she were not aware that her life was not right and changes needed to be made. However, since she was aware of the problems in her life/marriage and decided to take steps, particularly at a time when leaving your husband (in the Catholic religion) was something that women did not do, showed a great deal of strength. She knew that if she left her husband, she would have absolutely no support or understanding from either her family, church, friends, etc. Her desire to make a better life for herself and her children resulted in her taking measures such that she and she alone was in control of her life and destiny as opposed to outside circumstances. Another point that was interesting was her realization that the killing of the twins was Ann's way of making sure that Mary Margaret was not trapped. It was with that realization that Ellen realized that she was not alone and did not have to be trappped. All in all, good book.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x977585e8) out of 5 stars An Enjoyable Read 1 Dec. 1999
By Maurice Williams - Published on
Format: Paperback
Kinda wicked, kinda crazy, but definitely a good read. The writing was clear, the story moving. I view this novel as a reflection of how blind faith can lead one astray. Although an excellent tale of one's ability to endure and overcome, I was slightly disappointed that Ansay didn't expose us to the new Ellen, strong and confident, sturdy and assured. Even though most of Oprah's book seem to have a similar theme (struggle, oppression, eventual self-actualization), she does an excellent job of selecting novels that cover the theme creatively, and realistically.
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x96a24cfc) out of 5 stars Outstanding! 22 Nov. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I bought this book in spite of it being an Oprah pick, and I was very satisfied with it. The characters are so richly drawn, and after reading this, I very much appreciate what my mother's generation went through (I am in my early 30's). I saw alot of the women of my mother's generation in Ellen and Barb (characters in the book), and now have a new appreciation for them. This book was hard to put down--you really want to see what happens to everyone.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9709b2c4) out of 5 stars Pleasantly surprised.... a great read! 19 Jan. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I read several reviews on this book and wasn't sure I wanted to read it. But my husband gave it to me for Christmas. I admit, I am drawn to books that are uplifting, entertaining, and funny. I like a nice escape. But I also appreciate good, descriptive writing. This book has fine writing. The author has you right there on Vinegar Hill with Ellen and James. You really get to know the family, even if you, like me, are shocked by the secrets it holds. I learned a lot of what it must have been for women in the 70's, and a lot about the place religion held in their lives. As a working mother of two, it made me realize how easy we have it today. We have so many more choices than the women even a generation before us. Most married young women today are equal partners with their husbands. Ellen was not treated as an equal partner and it was a real eye opener for me. Ms. Ansay does a beautiful job of pulling you into Ellen's world, feeling her pain, loneliness, and despair. I really recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good writing, even if it is a bit depressing at times.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x96500d98) out of 5 stars Finally, Oprah has chosen a quality book! 15 Nov. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Although this book carries on the tiresome theme of abuse that is a staple of Oprah's choices, at least we are treated to writing that is much superior to her usual choices. The prose is beautiful, the characters are well-drawn, and the plot is very easy to get caught up in; you can easily read it in one evening. The writing contained a lot of beautiful imagery. I did think the family's "secret" was too obvious and easy to figure out; it took me only a few pages and I am usually pretty dense when it comes to that. The book seemed similar to some of Anne Tyler's works, but in addition to the usual cast of eccentric characters, there are a few really mean and vicious ones. Overall the book is much better than most new ficiton, and I hope the author will be giving us more.
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