I have to start this off by saying I have never read Anne Tyler. In all of her corpus, this is the book I chose. So, I’m not sure if this is a good representation of her writing or not. I’d love to hear what others who have read her think about this book, and if it is representative of her writing. If it is, I’m not sure if I will pick up any more of hers. Not that I hated the book, it’s just not my style.
Vinegar Girl was written as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project started in 2012 by Crown Publishing. It is comprised of the retelling of many of Shakespeare’s plays/stories in modern times. Other authors include Margaret Atwood (squee!), Jeanette Winterson, Gillian Flynn and Tracy Chevalier, among others. I have not read many of Shakespeare’s plays since high school (and what I did read, I hardly remember *cough* 21 years later *cough). Taming of the Shrew, on which Vinegar Girl was based, was on the never-read list. So I Googled it to see what the basics were. Turns out Taming of the Shrew is about a shrew-y woman who is forced (convinced?) to marry a man for whom she has very few feelings. With this as the blueprint, Anne Taylor appears to have nailed it.
Having not read Taming of the Shrew, I still feel like Vinegar Girl is a scene-by-scene reenactment, and maybe that was the point of this project. If that is the case, I’m a bit disappointed, as for me, a modern retelling should switch some things up a bit more than just following the blueprint. In my mind, only the times and names have changed, because Vinegar Girl is about a woman, Kate, who is convinced to marry someone she has few feelings for. And Kate is shrew-y and kind of a pain in the ass. Now, Taming of the Shrew is supposed to be a comedy, and I did not find myself laughing at Vinegar Girl. At first I was annoyed by Kate, then I felt some sympathy for her for having to marry this droll, nerdy, Russian scientist. At no point was it ever funny. Two chapters in, I could see where the title came from, as Kate seems full of piss and vinegar. She is actually called vinegar girl once in the book.
I typically find myself marking passages that I loved in a book, and this one had none. There was nothing overtly prose-y about it; it’s just a tale that is not all that colorful. Perhaps a more modern retelling would be that the shrew-y MAN had to be convinced to marry the smart, funny, determined WOMAN; that she is the strong one, and not the man, for once. Definitely would have been more of a challenge to write, but also more interesting and relevant given the feminist times we are currently going through in this country.
This was a quick read, thankfully, because I wasn’t sure what else was going to happen beyond the wedding. Or if there was going to be one. There is one scene/moment/chapter involving a pseudo-mystery, but it is solved in less than 15 pages. For the most part, I wanted to slap some sense into Kate, to stop being the victim, to move out of her dad’s house, stop enabling her dad’s behavior, go back to school. She was a titch annoying and not someone I would find myself hanging out with in real life. The epilogue at the end didn’t really do it for me either…it was too sickly sweet.
I did Google Anne Tyler also, as I know nothing of her but that she won a Pulitzer for Breathing Lessons. Interestingly, despite being home schooled for much of her early years, she started at Duke University at 16, and graduated at 19! You go, girl! Now write some stronger women characters!
So, Anne Tyler fans, is this her typical writing style? Are you surprised by this book? Is it outside her norm? I’d love to know before I attempt any others. Looking forward to hearing from you!