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The hard truths of "Vinegar Hill"

Vinegar Vinegar Hill was A. Manette Ansay's first novel, so imagine her excitement when the family drama was chosen for Oprah's Book Club. This is why I wish Oprah would leave the classics alone - for God's sake, we all know about East of Eden already. Introduce us to writers we don't know!

Anyway, in my quest to read Ansay's earlier works, I figured I'd better investigate what it was that Oprah liked so much in the book. Like Midnight Champagne, Vinegar Hill is set in the smalltown midwest. Unlike Champagne, its mood is melancholy, festering, regretful. It's about a family that must go live with its inlaws when father James loses his job. Of course, they don't really have to stay as long as they're staying, knows his wife Ellen, the book's primary protagonist. His parents are quarrelsome and frequently nasty to their daughter, but James is adamant, stuck in some kind of time warp where he's a kid again. And Ellen suffers, though hardly quietly. It's 1972, but emancipation came late to this part of the world, and Ellen's Catholic upbringing forbids her to leave her husband. Or does it?

On a surface level, the novel is a does she or doesn't she book, but Ansay makes these characters - in particular Ellen and her daughter Amy, who bear a striking resemblance to Ansay and her own mother - come alive. And you'll be glad Ellen's inlaws aren't yours.

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