Reader reviews for Vinegar Hill

I remember reading this book years ago and it was terrible. Bad writing I didnt care one bit about the characters because the author sucks at making them believable.
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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 brought her two children into the home of her in-laws on Vinegar Hill - a loveless house suffused with the settling dust of bitterness and routine -- where calculated cruelty is a way of life preserved and perpetuated in the service of a rigid, exacting and angry God. Behind a facade of false piety, there are sins and secrets in this place that could crush a vibrant young woman's passionate spirit. And here Ellen must find the strength to endure, change, and grow in the all-pervading darkness that threatens to destroy everything she is and everyone she loves.This story is tragic, bitter and vengeful but at the end, you have no other choice but to empathize with the characters. They were all victims; products of sad and unfortunate circumstances. I have to admit, when i completed this book i felt heavy like i had absorbed all of Ellen's troubles, her concerns and fears. It took me a little while to remove myself from the book, evidence that the story engrosses you.Most of the characters were woven with a negative element; regret, hatred, sadness, emptiness, loss of innocence. Yet, these elements did not feel strange or displaced because the author meant them to be apart of the reality of living in a small, tight-knitted, religious based community.I really like how the characters were constructed by the author. She used similarities between them to help place some of the stories in perspective. For example James and his mother Mary Margaret, shared similar characteristic straits and by extension similar stories. James and his brother Mitch shared the same story as Mary Margaret and Salomie. Ellen grows to realize that she shares a similar story to Ann. It is this aspect of circularity that really helps to cement the stories of these characters.At times i felt frustrated with the setting of the book. Reading it in a modern setting, as a young independent woman and knowing all the things that i want in life, i felt like Ellen was foolish for feeling guilty for wanting those same exact things. But then again the story was set in the 1970's when values were much different to how they are now. Even the advice that Barb gives her seems like a novel idea in that setting but to me made complete sense.To lift the story or rather to add hope to it, the author uses the act of selfishness. In fact the theme is almost glorified in the way that Milton made the devil look like a tragic hero. Ann, Ellen and Barb felt like their only hope was to be selfish and to do what they had to, to survive. Sometimes it came across as harsh but when you weight it against the situations that each character faced, selfishness really seemed like the most logical option. Indeed it was the only way for Ellen to be triumphant in the end.There were a few quotes that stood out for me in this book. Here are some of them to wet your appetite."The house is as rigid, as precise as a church, and there was nothing to disturb its ways until three months ago, when Ellen and James and the children moved in...." pg5"There are secrets everywhere in this house. Ellen walks around them, passes through them, sensing things without understanding what they mean." pg16"No one gets used to anything, they just get numb. That's what's happening to you. You let him get away with anything he wants, him and his parents too." pg142"Perhaps Mary-Margaret once stood beneath a night sky like this one, but she stood in one place so long that not even Ann could save her." pg 236I really enjoy this book and i hope that by reading this post, you too will give it a read.
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This is the story of the oppressiveness of religion and traditon on family live, particularly (but not exclusively) on women. When Ellen's husband James loses his job, they and their two children move in with James's parents. The in-laws don't like Ellen; she is expected to do most of housework and they are not happy that she has a job rather then being a stay-home mother. James is not his father's favourite son, and was abused as a child. The cycle of dysfunction continues, as Ellen longs for a better life, James struggles with his emotions, and his parents argue or ignore each other. The book is so well written. Just when I thought I had a good understanding of James, the focus switches and he becomes a much more complex character. Set in the early 70s, the story takes place when Women were just beginning to expect more than a life of obeying their husbands and attending Sunday mass. Ellen's struggles are those many women faced.
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Good. I enjoyed it.
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A woman's struggle to survive as an individual while living with her in-laws and distant husband. An Oprah book.
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It is interesting that I read this book so quickly because I didn't like any of the characters, there were numerous parts that made me feel quite depressed, and the overall emotion I had while reading it was one of bleak hopelessness. However, it is very well-written with a concise, spare style, which easily made it a page-turner for me.
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A very absorbing read. This is the second time I have read it.
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On Monday, March 29, 2004 I wrote:
I have read about 60 pages and I do like the book so far. It looks like a book I will finish pretty soon.
I will update this journal when I am done.

Update 30 March 2004

Well I have finished it already.
Some of my thoughts.
I was very surprised when Fritz hit his son James and more surprised that James left (well not for long)
it is a dark book, but it was nice reading the thoughts of the different characters.
First I felt sorry for Ellen but later I thought she needed a kick on her butt. Poor kids.

I also agree with you guys about that they should marry only because they spent a night in the car. i think the author messed up there cause yes those things happened but not in 1972( well my opinion). It weren't people who I felt affected to, even the child Amy was weird :-)but I did think it was interesting
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Dark, cold and profound. I love books like this.
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I wasn't sure about this at first, but the story improved steadily and tension built up. Hard not to sympathise with the main character, oarticularly given the circumstances of her marriage, though I tended to wonder why she didn't just leave. Some interesting moral dilemmas towards the end. Also I also thought the teacher friend was a good, likeable character, her lifestyle providing counterpoint to the main character's own circumstances
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