I just happened to sit in front of the TV right when a movie was coming on. The first few frames looked interesting, and when the movie’s title came up, it was Vinegar Hill. I thought, oh good! I know this book, I’ve read it before. I have it. So I settled down to watch the movie.
As the movie progressed, the story captured me but I’ll be darned if I can remember the plot of the book! I was hoping the movie would trigger my memory and the story from the book would suddenly come back to me. But no, I was a blank slate. So I settled down to enjoy the movie with fresh eyes and vowed to read the book anew.
I found the book and re-read it. Ellen, her husband James and their two children move in with his aging parents at their farm house in Holly’s Field, Wisconsin because James had lost his job in Chicago. The book weaves in and out of the different lives forced to share a roof. How those lives touch on each other, the secrets they hold and how those lives affect and ultimately shape the people who live them, I think, is the main and underlying story told by the book. It tells how the mundane events of daily living, our actions and reactions to those around us is the thing that makes or breaks us. It’s not the material things that determine who we are, no matter how we think it would greatly change things for the way we live our lives.
Now I remember when I read this book. Now I remember why I don’t remember the story. I was in a place much the same as Ellen. Reading the book, I could so relate to how she was feeling. The helplessness, the feeling of being caged in without escape, the lovelessness, the loathing, the self-hatred, the meanness, the guilt, the anger, the breathlessness; yeah, I remember all of those feelings. I read books and watched movies without really seeing without really absorbing without really understanding. I know, I’ve been there before and it’s a suffocating place to be. That’s what this book is all about.
The best thing about life though, is that like the movies, you do have control with how you let it affect you even when you don’t have control about what is happening to you. The movie took quite a bit of artistic license in adapting the book, but I think it did a good job conveying the emotions. The movie’s ending is quite different from the book, but I think they both end at the same place. Whether Ellen stays with James or not, the final result is that she realizes that she does have the power to control her life and choose who she wants to be part of it.
It was definitely worth re-reading the book and the movie was almost a whole new story altogether. Both of them worth experiencing.