Ansay, A. Manette 1965–
ANSAY, A. Manette 1965–
Born 1965, in Lapeer, MI; daughter of Dick (in sales and real estate) and Sylvia J. (a teacher) Ansay; married Jake Smith (a computer programmer; divorced), May 12, 1990; children: Jennifer. Education: University of Maine, B.A. (anthropology), 1987; University of South Florida, B.A. (creative writing), 1989; Cornell University, M.F.A., 1991.
Home—Nashville, TN. Office—University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, 33124. E-mail—[email protected]
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, lecturer in English, 1991-92; Phillips Exeter Academy, George Bennett Fellow, 1992-93; Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, assistant professor of English, 1993-97; University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, associate professor of English; full-time writer, 1997—. Instructor at Warren Wilson College, University of the South, and Marquette University. Instructor with Sewanee Younger Writer's Conference and Northshore Younger Writer's Conference. Has performed readings as part of the Visiting Writers Series at Butler University, University of Southern Maine, and Wells College.
MacDowell Colony residency, 1991 and 1995; Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, Chicago Tribune, 1992, and Associated Writing Programs Short Fiction Prize, 1994, both for "Read This and Tell Me What It Says;" National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1993; Pushcart Prize, 1994; Virginia Colony for the Creative Arts residency, 1994; Yaddo residency, 1994; one of Best Books of the Year citation, Chicago Tribune, 1994, second place in Friends of American Writers prize competition, 1995, and Oprah Winfrey Book Club Selection, 1999, all for Vinegar Hill; second place in American Fiction Prize competition, 1995; Bread Loaf Writers Conference fellowship, 1995; Ragdale Foundation residency, 1995; Theodore Roethke Prize, Poetry Northwest, 1995; Banta Prize, 1997, and New York Times notable book citation, both for Sister; New York Times notable book citation for River Angel; Great Lakes Book Award, 1997, for Vinegar Hill and Midnight Champagne; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination for Midnight Champagne.
Vinegar Hill, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
Sister, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
River Angel, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.
Midnight Champagne, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Blue Water, Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
Read This and Tell Me What It Says (short stories), University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1995.
Limbo: A Memoir, Morrow (New York, NY) 2001.
Also author of American Family Values, a collection of poems, and The Road Ends at the Orchard, a novel. Work featured in Best American Stories, 1992 and 1994. Contributor of stories to periodicals, including Story, North American Review, Indiana Review, American Fiction, EPOCH, Greensboro Review, Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose, and Quarterly West. Associate editor, EPOCH magazine, 1989-92, and Willow Springs, 1995—.
Vinegar Hill was adapted as a movie for CBS television.
A. Manette Ansay's writing career got off to an auspicious start when she won the prestigious Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction in 1992, at the age of twenty-seven. Her prize-winning story, "Read This and Tell Me What It Says," concerns a musically talented, teenaged girl surrounded by a dysfunctional family. Ansay told John Blades in the Chicago Tribune that she had an "average happy" childhood in Port Washington, Wisconsin, yet she still "convincingly … [caught] the shadowy subcurrents of life in small-town America" in her story. In her subsequent novels—which include Vinegar Hill, Sister, and Midnight Champagne—Ansay explores more deeply the character of small-town Midwestern life, in a way that drew much praise from critics.
Ansay's novel Vinegar Hill was published in 1994. Like "Read This and Tell Me What It Says," Vinegar Hill draws on the author's knowledge of life in small Midwestern towns. The novel centers on the character of Ellen Grier. Ellen's husband, James, loses his job, and moves the couple and their children in with his parents—whom Kathryn Harrison, in the New York Times Book Review, describes as "grandparents from a lurid nightmare." The Griers' marriage is already troubled—the union had initially resulted, as Harrison reported, "because … a snowstorm trapped them together in a car overnight" and this incident "was witnessed by a neighbor in their intolerant Roman Catholic community." Now, Ellen must reevaluate her family's life because, while living with his parents, her husband regresses to an almost childish state. In addition, as Harrison explained, "a dark secret" is buried in the family past. Despite a more upbeat ending, Harrison faulted Vinegar Hill for what she saw as a consistently dark tone, but concluded that "Ansay's gift for minute observation allows her to create a place so palpably dreadful" that readers would clearly remember the novel. A New Yorker reviewer noted that "Ansay transcends both feminist epic and Midwestern gothic to achieve, finally, the lunar world of tragedy." Nate Johnston in the Chicago Tribune praised the work as "finely crafted" and remarked: "With Vinegar Hill, [Ansay] joins a list of writers, including Jane Smiley, Mona Simpson and Robert Waller, who are transforming Midwestern fiction into a new national literature. But her voice is quite distinctive." Vinegar Hill was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as her Book Club Selection in November 1999.
Ansay's second novel, Sister, opens in upstate New York, where its narrator, Abigail, has settled with her husband and is awaiting the birth of her first child. But the bulk of the book takes place in Wisconsin, where Abigail was raised. She is determined to give her child a different kind of upbringing than her own, but she cannot do it until she comes to terms with her own childhood. The book is made up of her reveries about her devout, Roman Catholic mother; her stormy, distant father; and her brother, a gentle boy who drifted into a life of petty crime after years of being bullied by their father. For a time, Abigail took strength in her mother's religion, only to reject it and drift into a lonely existence far from Wisconsin. Sister is "melancholy and meditative," and "a remembrance of things bleak, an angry, poignant, rambling novel," in the words of New York Times Book Review contributor Ron Hansen. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Sister "intense and deeply affecting…. Abby's difficult road to understanding, acceptance and a state of grace is related with beautiful control, and this heart-breaking novel resonates with wisdom about life's hard truths."
Ansay progressed from focusing on one dysfunctional family to creating a portrait of a whole town in her novel River Angel. The title refers to a rural legend about a spirit that guards the river in Ambient, Wisconsin. That legend takes on reality when an outcast boy, Gabriel, is chased or pushed into the river by some drunken teenagers. Mysteriously, his dead body is found, warm, dry, and sweet-smelling, in a barn miles from the river, giving rise to speculation as to whether he was taken there by the river angel. "This is a beautifully written, haunting novel, grounded in realism, with appeal for readers regardless of their level of belief," asserted a Booklist reviewer. Noting that spirituality is a popular but difficult theme in contemporary novels, New York Times Book Review writer Judith Grossman credited Ansay—"a writer with a gift for persuasive and shapely narrative"—with moving "beyond her prior mastery of the family scene to a lucid, eloquent representation of the commingled and conflicting lives of a town. But she has also paid a writer's tribute to that final, inviolate zone of privacy that is the domain of spiritual belief."
Ansay lightened her tone somewhat in her next book, Midnight Champagne. Described as "a funny, touching novel" by Laura Jamison in the New York Times Book Review, it is filled with "likable, quirky characters" who are trapped in a tacky vacation lodge during a momentous snowstorm. The bride's jilted boyfriend is there, along with various disillusioned, dysfunctional members of her family; when the power goes out, desperate pairings-off begin. Jamison wrote: "Over the course of the ceremony and reception, A. Manette Ansay pans the scene knowingly and compassionately, pausing to enter the thoughts of key players…. Ansay … weaves in and out of the sundry dramas with grace, warmth and a good deal of humor, striking a fine balance between comedy and compassion."
Ansay told her own story in Limbo: A Memoir. It focuses on her struggle to come to grips with a mysterious, debilitating malady that forced her to set aside her musical ambitions, use a wheelchair, and completely rethink her life. Ansay relates how her suffering led her to personal revelations and to a new calling—that of writing. Discussing Limbo in Booklist, Donna Seaman called it a "compelling tale of evolving spirituality." A Publishers Weekly writer recommended it as a "gorgeous memoir."
With the novel Blue Water, Ansay offered readers the story of two parents struggling with their grief and their desire for revenge after their beloved son is killed in a drunk-driving accident. A Publishers Weekly writer recommended it as "solid and revelatory."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Ansay, A. Manette, Limbo: A Memoir, Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
Booklist, February 1, 1998, Michele Leber, review of River Angel, p. 896; June 1, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Midnight Champagne, p. 1788; August, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Limbo, p. 2043.
Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1992, John Blades, interview with A. Manette Ansay, Section 5, p. 1.
Commonweal, November 4, 1994, David Toolan, review of Vinegar Hill, p. 28.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2006, review of Blue Water, p. 247.
Library Journal, March 15, 1996, review of Read This and Tell Me What It Says, p. 120; June 1, 1996, Debbie Bogenschutz, review of Sister, p. 146; June 1, 1999, p. 170.
Mademoiselle, August, 1996, review of Read This and Tell Me What It Says, p. 96.
Ms., July, 1996, Felicia Paik, review of Sister, p. 83.
National Catholic Reporter, November 18, 1994, Judith Bromberg, review of Vinegar Hill, p. 33.
New Leader, October 7, 1996, Carmen Birkle, review of Sister, p. 19.
New Yorker, December 5, 1994, review of Vinegar Hill, p. 150.
New York Times Book Review, September 18, 1994, Kathryn Harrison, review of Vinegar Hill, p. 28; September 1, 1996, Ron Hansen, review of Sister, p. 9; June 21, 1998, Judith Grossman, review of River Angel, p. 26; July 4, 1999, Laura Jamison, review of Midnight Champagne, p. 9.
Palm Beach Post, June 25, 2006, Scott Eyman, "A. Manette Ansay: A Writer of Grace, a Woman of Resilience."
Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1996, review of Sister, p. 55; December 15, 1997, review of River Angel, p. 45; May 3, 1999, review of Midnight Champagne, p. 67; July 9, 2001, review of Limbo, p. 54; April 17, 2006, Matthew Thornton, "Two More for Ansay," p. 12; May 20, 2006, review of Blue Water, p. 39.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 23, 1994, review of Vinegar Hill, p. 8.
USA Today, April 20, 2006, Donna Freydkin, review of Blue Water, p. 5D.
A. Manette Ansay Home Page, http://www.amanetteansay.com (August 30, 2006).