A modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is a clever spin on The Bard’s beloved comedy without the alleged misogynistic components.
Tyler’s protagonist is Kate Battista, the daughter of a well-known scientist who is stuck in a terrible rut. With no personal life to speak of, except for her love of gardening, and working in a place where she’s constantly edging on her supervisor’s tolerance, she limits herself to babysitting her younger sister and serving as surrogate housekeeper for her father.
When Kate’s father proposes an outrageous plan in order to keep his valuable research assistant from being deported, Kate is placed between a rock and a crazy place. She has to choose between living her life in absolute boredom and loneliness, or risking her independence to aid a complete stranger, while perhaps catching a particular fly with vinegar in lieu of honey.
Tyler’s narrative is not only edgy but also evokes the disastrous misunderstandings that characterize Shakespeare’s work. Purists may find this take on The Taming of the Shrew a bit out there. However, regardless of any apprehension reader’s, can’t fail to appreciate the wit and well-constructed kookiness of the author’s characters. At times the exchanges between characters are a little confusing and choppy, but this doesn’t take anything away from the comedic spirit of Tyler’s novel.
Strict Shakespeare scholars may want to stay away from this one. Tyler takes a well-known Elizabethan play and spins it on its axis. The result is Vinegar Girl, perhaps not precisely what Shakespeare may have approved, but it certainly fits right in with the le nouveau folie of the 21st century.
Author’s note: This review was based on an advanced reader’s copy provided by Netgalley and the publisher.