For The Someday Book

Book Review: Vinegar Hill

Posted on: February 28, 2011

Vinegar Hill, by A. Manette Ansay, Harper Collins, 1994, 240 pp.

In the novel, I don’t recall Ansay describing the house on Vinegar Hill as overcast and shrouded in fog, but that’s the only way I could imagine it. This book felt heavy from beginning to end. The home, the story, the family were so cloudy and gray that  it felt oppressive just to read about it. Vinegar Hill is the story of family members trapped in the past, unrelentingly playing out their own fears and rejections over and over again in familiar patterns of despair, violence and grudges.

In response to economic troubles, Ellen and James (along with their two young children) are forced to move in with James’ parents, Mary-Margaret and Fritz. Mary-Margaret and Fritz are governed by a history of violence and guilt, overseen by an angry, vengeful God. The longer the family resides with them, the more James reverts to his childhood role of trying to appease his abusive father. Ellen feels her despair growing, and the bleakness of the relationships in the house begin to frighten and depress the young children as well. As the story unfolds, they all sink deeper into despair.

While there is hope at the end, this book is not the story of a rising. It is the story of a sinking into the mire, until finally there is no way to go on—the characters will be smothered, or they will fight their way out. Reading the book made me feel like the gray cloud had descended on me when I was reading it. It was tough to shake it, even when the novel was finished. When I read a novel, I want to escape into another world. Vinegar Hill was a bleak world from which I wanted to escape back into my own life.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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