"All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality -- the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape."
--Author Christopher Benson



Saturday, February 13, 2010

Road Trip

The first leg of my journey of reading books that use Wisconsin as a backdrop introduced me to A. Manette Ansay.  She grew up in Port Washington, Wisconsin.  She was a piano player and even went on to study music at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. In 1984 her entire life changed as she was crippled with a variety of health problems.  She was misdiagnosed with MS, by then she was bedridden and had to live with her parents. By 1987, she was able to get around in a wheelchair. In 1988 she realized she needed a job she could do sitting down, and committed herself to writing. In 1994 she found out her first book was to be published and soon thereafter it was chosen as a selection for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club.  For the first time in her life she was making money. Money that allowed her to pursue alternative medical treatments, as she was in a great deal of pain, starting to have problems with her kidneys, and difficulty breathing.  It was determined that her health problems stemmed from the fact the her body lacked the hormone progesterone, which could be treated.  She has written a book about her struggles in a book entitled "Limbo" which has been added to my list of books I want to read.  Today she  continues to write, is a guest professor at a variety of colleges and has a wonderful daughter.   http://www.amanetteansay.com/wordpress/

Now the books:
Vinegar Hill takes place in a fictional Wisconsin town of Holly's Field loosely based on Ansay's hometown of  Port Washington.. This is where Ellen Grier and her family move in with her in-laws after her husband loses his job.  It didn't take long for Ellen to realize that not only did her in-laws not like each other, they really hated her. She became a slave to her in-laws and her husband.  They believed in an angry and unforgiving God and that the wife is to be completely submissive to her husband.  After years of living a life that would break any woman's spirit, she discovers a family secret that gives her the strength the move on with her life.

This was a hard book to read because of the content.  The writing is top-notch and you find yourself almost lost in this family's dysfunction.

Sister is set in the fictional Horton, Wisconsin, a rural town with strong ties to the Catholic faith. Abigail looks back at her life as she awaits the birth of her first child. She realizes that until she can come to grips with her past her future will never be secure. Growing up Abigail and her brother were tormented by their father as he believed in the very different gender roles. The woman's place is in the home and the man ears the money. Her mother, a true Catholic housewife, always looked the other way.  Abigail was always her brother's protector but the stress with his father forces him to leave and he basically disappears, which drives Abigail to a nervous breakdown only to be saved by her devoutly Catholic grandmother.  Still tormented by her brothers disappearance Abigail finds herself questioning everything she ever believed about her family, her faith and herself.

This is a truly moving story.  Growing up in the Catholic faith I understood some of rigidness of the story.  This story will touch your heart in the last pages as Abigail's mother tries to explain their life.

Blue Water set in Fox Harbor (again fictional) where everyone knows everyone else business.  This is the story of Meg Van Dorn and her husband Rex whose son is killed by a drunk driver as his mother drives him to school.  Of course Meg knows the drunk driver, she was one her best friends growing up.  After weeks of trying to continue their lives in Fox Harbor, they rent out their house, sell everything they can, cash in retirement accounts and buy a sailboat and set sail in the Atlantic.  No matter how far they go they cannot escape their monumental loss, especially with Meg's brother engaged to the drunk driver's sister.  After months at sea, Meg needs to return home, not only for her brother's wedding but to work out the dislike she is feeling for her husband.  The trip home changes everything.

I really liked this book, and after reading the Question/Answer section in the back of the book and checking out the author's website I found out that the sailing part of this book was partly autobiographical.  I also liked how the drunk driver was a female, a mother.  Most often this type of crime is showcased with a male in the role of drunk driver.  Doing this added a different perspective to the story.

Okay, that was the first part of my journey to read 15 books that use Wisconsin as the setting for their stories.  I hope you will check out these books and stayed turned for portion of the trip.


Booksnyc said...

thanks for this spotlight on the author - I have read Vinegar Hill but haven't read any of the others.

Glad you are along for the Literary Road Trip!

Michelle said...

Wonderful showcase of an accomplished author. Thank you for sharing!

Sandra said...

I had no idea about this author's life. I have a copy of Vinegar Hill on my shelves. It's time I got to it. And what an inspiring story, thank you for this.