Shakespeare never gets old, but when someone makes him new again (and in the most engaging, hilarious, and Shakespearean way), it is somehow exhilarating. That is exactly what Anne Tyler does with her latest novel Vinegar Girl. Rewriting The Taming of the Shrew in a contemporary context, Tyler takes what is one of Shakespeare’s most sexists plays and turns it into a dialogue about feminism and equality.
Kate Battista is a twenty-nine-year-old house-daughter who packs her scientist father’s lunch, makes dinner for the family, and keeps on eye on her younger sister Bunny. This very classical female role does not mean that Kate is an obedient or boring character; rather, she is an acerbic, assertive woman who speaks her mind no matter the occasion. She was even kicked out of college for pointing out an error in a science teacher’s lecture. Now she works at a preschool, not that she likes kids or anything.
Kate’s humdrum life is thrown off kilter when her father, Louis, suggests one day that she marry his lab assistant Pyotr. He doesn’t propose the idea because he thinks Kate and Pyotr will be great together, or because they are even dating, but because Pyotr’s Visa is about to expire. Pyotr has no other way to stay in the country and help Louis Battista with his twenty-year-long experiment. At first Kate is appalled by the idea of being married off to someone, especially someone that she finds as repulsive as Pyotr. But finally, Kate relents, and a courting game ensues with a level of caustic hilarity that mounts as the novel continues.
In the same vein of Shakespearean humor, language is a main means by which Tyler brings comedy into Vinegar Girl. Her characters use words with wit, stupidity, and ferocity. Tyler has a unique way of playing with language in the most simplistic of ways. Nothing is too fancy, and yet everything is calculated and perfectly arranged so that the text reads smoothly and the subtleties of the characters’ often nuanced words are not lost.
Vinegar Girl ends in a much more optimistic place than Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Instead of ending in submission and a hierarchical understanding of marriage, Vinegar Girl ends with a firm understanding of equality. Kate is not tamed; instead she comes to a place of understanding about her own position in her father’s household, as well as an understanding about what it means to be accepted and loved. Kate transforms into an empathetic character without losing any of her quirk or pizazz.
A fun, funny, and fast-paced love story, Vinegar Girl is a great read whether you are a Shakespeare fan or not. Released by Hogarth Publishing in June of 2016, you can find Vinegar Girl at your local bookstore.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.