Tyler, Anne. 2016. Vinegar Girl. New York,NY: Hogarth Shakespeare/PRH/ The Crowne Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0804141260. $25.00 USD.
I was a huge fan of Anne Tyler’s early work, especially “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,” “The Accidental Tourist,” and “Celestial Navigation.” I spent four years studying classic literature as an English major in the 1980’s, and was so burned out, I didn’t read anything remotely “literary” for years! Eventually, I discovered the early works of Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler and have been a voracious reader of contemporary fiction ever since.
Ms. Tyler, in my opinion, put the “fun” in “dysfunctional” families! Recently there have been a spate of novels dealing with the subject of dysfunctional families, but I have found many of them to be depressing. As an author (which I am not), I think you need a balance of humor with the family dysfunction in order to not turn off your readers. Anne Tyler seems to understand this. I have to admit, I have not read many of her later works, but I was looking forward to her contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, “Vinegar Girl.” This novel is part of an ongoing project to provide contemporary adaptations of some of Shakespeare's best known plays. Other authors who have signed on include Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood, Tracy Chevalier, Gillian Flynn and Jo Nesbo, to name a few.
What the reader needs to understand about this book is that it is the author’s interpretation of the major themes in Shakspeare’s play, one of his most challenging. It is not a “re-telling” of it. In “Vinegar Girl,” we meet Kate Battista, a college dropout and assistant preschool teacher who lives at home with her father, a stereotypical absent-minded scientist, and her sister, Bunny, an airheaded teenager. Dr. Battista is about to lose his valued lab assistant, Pyotr, due to work visa issues and concocts a plan to marry him off to Kate in order to get him a green card. Simple, right? In Anne Tyler’s capable hands, these characters come alive. Kate’s curmudgeonly inner and outer dialogue is juxtaposed with Pyotr’s sweetness (for the most part) and his challenges with the English language, providing some of the greatest scenes in this slim volume (“Khello, Katya!”). So long as the reader has a little background on The Taming of the Shrew, and understands the author’s intent, I feel this novel will be an entertaining and satisfying experience.