Title: Vinegar Girl
Author: Anne Tyler
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Shakespeare Retelling
Release Date: June 21st, 2016
Source: Received from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review
Anne Tyler’s retelling of The Taming of the Shrew asks whether a thoroughly modern, independent woman like Kate would ever sacrifice herself for a man. Its answer is as individual, offbeat, and funny as Kate herself.
Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and her uppity, pretty younger sister, Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work—her preschool charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.
Dr. Battista has his own problems. After years in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, Dr. Battista’s work may not ever be realized.
When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying—as usual—on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. Will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?
I’m a huge Shakespeare fan, and Taming of the Shrew was my introduction to the Bard. It’s got arguably the best male/female banter and is cunningly written to be interpreted any number of ways. Is Kate ever ‘tamed’, or do she and Petruchio merely understand one another (two peas in a pod)? Do they have any sympathetic feelings, or are they forever in a battle of one-upmanship? Is Kate punished for being bitter, or rewarded with her best intellectual match for cutting through the B.S. of an unfair world?
I’ve seen quite a few modern interpretations of this tale, and it’s always the biggest dance to avoid carrying over the sexist ‘taming’ connotations. You couldn’t very well have Kate putting her head under her husband’s foot and sweetly (seriously) acquiescing fully to him without alienating the majority of your readership.
Anne Tyler carries it off in this retelling by refocusing the story away from their banter and onto Kate’s blooming understanding of the childhood she misinterpreted as cold and distant. The lovely transition makes this more of a love story- the realistic kind that doesn’t involve swooning, but does involve being open to newness. There are nods to plot points within the source material (Petruchio, or Pyotr in this case, showing up to his wedding horribly dressed, etc.)
The story itself is lovely, and although the first two chapters made it sound anachronistic, it didn’t take long for me to be right there with Kate and her attitude. As a retelling, it modernized the tale but at the expense of the witty banter. Petruchio’s manipulations of Kate to take her pride down a notch turn into Pyotr’s foreign ways causing Kate to rethink her assumptions. Their “asses are made to bear and so are you/women are made to bear and so are you” is out the window entirely. And Kate’s final taming to her husband’s will, which earns them money in a bet and shames the other self-righteous women (in the play) becomes Kate declaring that men are often misunderstood and at a disadvantage because they aren’t allowed to fully express their feelings for fear of seeming weak (in the book).
Disappointing lack of banter aside, Anne Tyler writes in a beautifully clean, contemporary fiction way, and this was a sweet, quick read. Plus, the cover is this gorgeous velvet texture. Win!