In 1998, on the merits of her second novel, River
Angel, the Utne Reader named
Manette Ansay one of ten writers most likely to "change the way you see
the world." The Utne Reader wasn't the only one to take notice, though.
The following year, Oprah
Winfrey made a bestseller out of Ansay's first novel, Vinegar Hill,
when she selected it for her celebrated bookclub. As the novel opens, Ellen
Grier finds herself back in the Midwestern town she thought she had escaped
forever. To make matters worse, due to unfortunate circumstances, Ellen and
her family are forced to move in with her husband's parents. And a more loveless
home would be hard to find James's parents are rigid, pious, and cruel;
and they don't like Ellen so it comes as no surprise when Ellen begins
to feel claustrophobic and to worry about the negative effects of raising her
children in such an atmosphere. But after many months of effort spent suppressing
her feelings and trying to make the best of a bad situation, Ellen finally discovers
the family's darkest secret, which is all the impetus she needs to take the
necessary steps to free herself. Given the harsh realities of this book, the
story could have easily turned into simplistic polemic, but Ansay avoids this
by making her characters fully dimensional and sympathetic, and by giving the
gothic situations they find themselves in an element of black humor. Ansay also
makes Ellen's story a pleasure to read through the simple elegance of her writing.
Synopses & Reviews
In a stark, troubling, yet ultimately triumphant celebration of self-determination, award-winning author A. Manette Ansay re-creates a stifling world of guilty 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 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 straight to endure, change, and grow in the all-pervading darkness that threatens to destroy everything she is and everyone she loves.
"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."
The New Yorker
About the Author
A. Manette Ansay grew up in rural Wisconsin one of sixty-seven cousins and more than two hundred second cousins in a large extended Catholic farming family. At thirty-six, she is the author of four highly acclaimed novels, including Midnight Champagne
, a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, and Vinegar Hill
, an Oprah's Book Club Selection, as well as Sister, River Angel
, and a collection of short stories, Read This and Tell Me What It Says
. She lives in New York City with her husband of eleven years, and is at work on another novel.