On Our Bookshelves – Vinegar Girl

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NOVEL: Vinegar Girl

AUTHOR: Anne Tyler

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2016

REVIEW:

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Vinegar Girl is a book in Penguin Random House’s Hogarth Shakespeare project, in which well-known authors are being commissioned to retell Shakespeare’s stories for a modern audience.  I was rather intrigued by Anne Tyler taking on The Taming of the Shrew.

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She’s done a pretty creditable job of it, by and large, setting the action in Baltimore among a dysfunctional family (as is the case in her other novels–she is nothing if not consistent).  Kate Battista, the older daughter, isn’t a shrew.  She’s just stuck–a college dropout, working at a dead-end job at a preschool, taking care of her father (a research scientist) and her younger sister.  She’s socially awkward and a bit blunt, and extremely lonely.  And she’s not being pressured into marrying to clear the way for her younger sister Bunny (Bianca), who is far too young to marry in any event…but she could keep her father’s brilliant lab assistant (Pyotr, in the Petruchio role, if you can imagine Petruchio as an immuno-biologist) from being deported.

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It’s all a bit ridiculous, but the story was always ridiculous, and Kate is an appealing oddball, like many of Tyler’s other protagonists.  Pyotr is an oddball, too.  Together they eventually manage to find some common ground.  I rather liked Kate’s unflappable Aunt Thelma.  I enjoyed Kate’s speech defending Pyotr (it’s about how patriarchy harms men instead of about how wives should be obedient, as is only fitting in the 21st century). The farcical elements were clever updates to the story.  And it’s good fun to see how she works it all out, and of course, to get to the inevitable line, “Kiss me, Katya.”

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Vinegar Girl actually ends up being rather sweet (much more honey than vinegar) but it’s nothing close to Tyler’s best work, as her familiar topics of family and marriage and guilt and obligations don’t work as well when shoehorned into this silly plot.  It put a smile on my face, though, and sometimes that’s enough.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com

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Lead-In Image (Book Cover) Courtesy of Hogarth Shakespeare / Penguin Random House

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