Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I am going to start this review by saying that the fact that “Vinegar Hill” was an Oprah’s Book Club pick didn’t deter me from reading it. I think a lot of people are passing up some great books because of the stigma of bad quality that surrounds her book club, even to this day. I’ve read several of her club offerings and found them to be hit or miss–much in the same fashion as any random book you’d find in literary fiction. Do people seriously expect EVERY book that Oprah recommends will be great? Perhaps, due to her larger than life persona, we expect too much of Oprah. Books are still a matter of personal preference, and Oprah’s tastes don’t always have to match mine. Lol, please…
Anyway, I actually really liked this book. A lot of reviewers use the words “bleak” and “depressing” to describe the tone of this book, and these words are very accurate. The story centers on Ellen and James, a married couple with two children, who fall on hard financial times and are forced to move in with James’ parents. Their home is a harsh, loveless place, where secrets are kept and Fritz (James’ father) rules through cruelty and intimidation. The whole time I read this I could feel the tension in the house building and building until Ellen makes a drastic choice and you’re able to find some sense of relief at the end.
I also thought Ms. Ansay did an excellent job with the setting of this book. Religion, specifically the family’s strict, traditional Catholic faith, also played an important role in this story. Back in 1972, people simply did not divorce. Women were responsible for maintaining their household, no matter how miserable they were and that was it. This book explores this dynamic, and it affected me deeply, even though some parts were tough to read. I’m glad the author made this a short book, if it were 50 pages longer I couldn’t see myself continuing to endure the character’s suffering.