Why would anyone buy a property named Vinegar Hill? The place sounds miserable. A. Manette Ansay’s novel named Vinegar Hill lived up to the bitter connotations of the title.
Vinegar Hill is an unhappy place. The book tells the story of a family, Ellen and James Grier and their children, Amy and Bert, who have been living with James’ parents for what seems like an enternity. They used to have their own home, far from Vinegar Hill and James’ nasty parents, but when James lost his job they used up all of their savings, and moved in with his parents. James thought moving in with his parents was a good idea, and he appeared to have the last word when making important decisions affecting the family.
Ellen is a school teacher and as well as working full time, is doing all of the cooking and cleaning at her in-law’s home. She is constantly put down and undermined by her witch of a mother in law, Mary-Margaret. James has taken a job as a travelling salesman and is rarely at home, leaving Ellen to protect Amy and Mitch from the worst of Mary-Margaret’s craziness.
The family are Catholic and the book is set in the 1970’s, in a place where good Catholic wives did not leave their loser husbands and horrible in-laws, because their marriages are for better or worse (Vinegar Hill is on the worse side, that’s for sure). James seems to be suffering from depression, at least in the start of the novel, although his mental health is never discussed or treated. Ellen and the children are never in physical danger, although James has scars from beatings his father gave him as a child and the threat of violence is a continual presence.
Ellen’s passivity drove me crazy. Reading Vingear Hill enraged me, as a child of a different generation (and not being religious) I could not understand why Ellen didn’t put her children and herself first and move out of the terrible situation she found them all in. She had a job and a loving family (her mother and sisters did not like the idea of Ellen leaving James, but I like to think they would have continued loving her and supporting her regardless of her making a descision they didn’t agree with). Ellen even had the example of a work colleague who had left her own husband, so it wasn’t even as if she was going to be the only scarlet woman in town.
In my opinion, life is too short to be a martyr. Ellen should have left her gutless husband who was too badly scared by his violent father and crazy, mean mother long before they had the chance to emotionally damage her own children. I think Vinegar Hill has been made into a movie, but I won’t be watching it, life is also too short to dwell in misery, fiction or otherwise.