Vinegar Girl (NetGalley)
I’m not one for modern novels that piggy back on a great work of literature. Chances are I’ve already read the classic, so the broad strokes of the contemporary retelling seem forced. And I tend to nitpick, as well: “Well, that didn’t happen in The Great Classic” or “Famous Classic Character would never say such a thing!” So the much acclaimed A Thousand Acres (King Lear) by Jane Smiley? I skimmed it. (I know, I know it won the Pulitzer …) I really don’t see Pride and Prejudice in Bridget Jones’s Diary, either. And while I did enjoy The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, once Edgar unravels his uncle Claude (hah!) and runs away, it was so over-the-top Hamlet, that the novel was spoiled for me.
So I wasn’t prepared to like Anne Tyler’s latest novel The Vinegar Girl, which is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. But here’s the deal. I’ve never read The Taming of the Shrew, so I had nothing to compare it to and Tyler’s story held up well enough on its own.
Kate Batista is stuck in a dead end job and still living at home. She’s 30, works in a preschool, and doesn’t even like kids. Her widowed dad is a stereotypical absent-minded scientist and her sixteen-year-old sister is a stereotypical teenager. Kate keeps house for them both and is either the glue that holds the family together or the door mat. Probably both. Until her dad decides he can kill two birds with one stone: marry off Kate and keep his Russian research assistant in the U.S.
Kate resists and then she doesn’t. Because this just might be her ticket out of the house. Pyotr Cherbokov is at times charming, but most often rude and ill-mannered, at least by American standards. Will she go through with the marriage or not?
Anne Tyler’s twentieth novel doesn’t have the keen insight or the charming absurdity that her early novels had. Nor did her last, A Spool of Blue Thread which I read last year and liked well enough (link). But it’s a sweet story, well-told–and since it’s based on one of Shakespeare’s comedies, you know it ends well for our heroine.
And what’s not to like about happily ever after?