It seems as if I've been talking about and anticipating Vinegar Girl for months now. The Hogarth Shakespeare project has today's bestselling novelists writing modern retellings of Shakespeare's works. Anne Tyler took on one of my favorite plays,The Taming of the Shrew, and set it in contemporary Baltimore. Maybe I expected too much. It was a nice story. But, Kate didn't live up to my expectations, and, she certainly wasn't a shrew.
Kate Battista was kicked out of college her sophomore year for loudly disagreeing with a professor. Now, ten years later, she's still living at home with her absent-minded scientist father who is working in autoimmunity in a small, forgotten lab near the Johns Hopkins campus. She takes care of the household and her fifteen-year-old sister, Bunny. She is also on permanent probation at the preschool where she's a teacher's assistant, "an extra tall, more obstreperous four-year-old". Then, after a great deal of awkward ingratiation, her father reveals he wants her to marry his lab assistant. Pyotr Cherbakov. Pyotr's three-year visa is about to expire, and, in her father's eyes, it's vitally important that his lab assistant stay in the country. So, what's wrong with his oldest daughter getting married to his lab assistant?
Actually, I felt sorry for Kate throughout most of the book. Not only is she not a shrew, but everyone walks all over her. She's not assertive until the very end of the book. She saw herself a little differently. "She had always been such a handful - a thorny child, a sullen teenager, a failure as a college student. What was to be done with her? But now they had the answer: marry her off." Pyotr certainly isn't the overbearing Petruchio. And, even Bunny has a moment when she tries to stop Kate from going on with the farce of a marriage. "...I do think it would be nice if I could have a bigger room, but if the price for that is my only sister getting totally tamed and tamped down and changed into some whole other person-".
Vinegar Girl is a nice book. And, everything turns out nice. Unfortunately, I wanted so much more than nice. I wanted the drama and sexiness and banter and everything I love about The Taming of the Shrew. Let's face it, though. Who can really compete with Shakespeare? Vinegar Girl is a nice story.
(Here's a link to an interview with Anne Tyler about Vinegar Girl. It's from The Washington Post. http://wapo.st/28Mn3Kv )
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. Hogarth Shakespeare. 2016. ISBN 9780804141260 (hardcover), 235p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.