Vinegar Girl is Anne Tyler’s contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which attempts to put a modern spin on a re-telling of The Taming of the Shrew.
I had issues with the original play and I was very keen to find out whether Tyler would interpret the play differently. Would she stick to the literal description of the relationship between Kate and Petruccio or would she re-interpret it? How would the story be able to stand up in a modern setting?
What I found was that Vinegar Girl seemed to be rather confused by its own parameters. One one hand we have a modern setting with a headstrong woman as main character, on the other we’re supposed to believe that can be persuaded to not only be chief cook and bottle washer for her scientist father and airhead sister while also having a career of her own, and on top that she’s not objecting to having a green card marriage arranged against her will. I just found it hard to believe this. It was a setting that was difficult in the original play, but at least it was plausible because of the time it was set in.
In 2013, this makes no sense.
I was also confused by the sheer number of tropes the book employed – the eccentric scientist father, the airhead sister, the militant animal rights activist, the vegetarian who doesn’t understand basic food facts, the rude generic Eastern European/Russian lab assistant – I was looking for more depth, but got none.
To be fair, at least with respect to Pyotr, Tyler created something quite fun: originally we get to meet him as the awkward and rude lab assistant. I’m not sure whether it is ever stated which country he is from, so for most of the book he is the “generic” Eastern European/Russian (why did Tyler not bother with more details? Did she not trust her readers to be able differentiate between countries?).
In the course of the book, we get to see more and more sides of Pyotr and find out that he isn’t the unsophisticated, rude, misogynist idiot that he appears to be at the beginning of the book. I guess Tyler tried to make the reader follow Kate’s footsteps in warming to Pyotr by the end of the book.
This was really well done.
Alas, this was not enough to make me like the book. For a large part I was bored and wishing I had just re-watched Ten Things I Hate About You.