I fell in love with Kate Battista on the sixth page.
This interchange, with her father, who has just insisted she stay at his laboratory until he finishes his lunch:
“Well, you’ll need to take back my sandwich box, will you not?”
“Well, you can bring it back yourself, can you not?”
Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. It is one of the novels in the Hogarth Shakespeare project, which was organized to keep Shakespeare’s tales alive through modern retellings.
If you’ve read Taming of the Shrew, you’ll know it’s one of the most problematic of Shakespeare’s plays because of its overtly sexist (albeit, to be fair, historically accurate) plot–the sour, unlikeable eldest daughter being married off, without her consent, to a man who then attempts to “tame” her.
It’s a feminist’s worst nightmare.
Vinegar Girl follows the same plot, but with modern twists that make the entire concept more palatable. Woven into Shakespeare’s plot are Tyler’s takes on the characters — independent and caustic Kate Battista, her stereotypical teen sister, Bunny (cheerleader, expert texter, “vegetarian”), Dr. Battista, scientific researcher, and Pyotr, Dr. Battista’s soon-to-be-deported-but-indispensable research assistant.
It is the characters that will keep you reading, for that is where Tyler’s skill shines. From Pyotr’s overly-long cultural proverbs to Dr. Battista’s emotionally stunted way of loving his daughters, you will be charmed by this cast. Kate is tamed by no one but herself, and yet there is a subtly beautiful undertone of choice, independence, sacrifice, and love beneath the bones of this retelling.
Vinegar Girl is a quick read. If I were to do a feminist reading of it, I’d have much more to say–including pontificating on what I find to be problematic–but overall, it was a very enjoyable, easy read. Perfect for an airplane or commute!
**I was provided a copy of this book by the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.