Sunday, July 17, 2016

Anne Tyler's Take on The Taming of the Shrew

In honor of Shakespeare's 400th anniversary, the Hogarth Press ( has devised a delightful celebration. It has contracted with several popular fiction writers to create modernized versions of their favorite Shakespeare play. As readers, we mustn't take this too seriously, obviously these authors know that they aren't recreating the genius, but are simply paying homage. Just think what fun it must be for them. And yes, for us.

Product Details
Anne Tyler can always be counted on to bring a smile to the reader, often a guffaw. There are plenty of opportunities to laugh out loud in "Vinegar Girl," Tyler's take on "The Taming of the Shrew." Her modern day Kate lives in Tyler territory, Baltimore, Maryland, not far from the Johns Hopkins campus where her single, and single-minded father has lost his professorial creds but continues to labor over his life's work, finding the source of autoimmune disorders.
Shakespeare's story has often been considered an anti-feminist play but leave it to Tyler to turn it around in the most delightful way. Kate Battista, truly her father's daughter, was kicked out of her college for having it out with a professor with whom she disagreed. No matter that she was correct, she's now at home living a life of drudgery, taking care of her younger sister, a typical fifteen-year-old airhead, and her oblivious father who takes it for granted that the laundry is done and the dinner's on the table each night at the same time, in fact, it's the same meal!
Kate has a wry sense of humor, in fact, she reminds me of what I suspect Anne Tyler would be like if you were to meet her. She's woefully underemployed as an aid at a day care center where she's rebuked by teachers and parents alike for talking to the kids as if they were mini-adults, often to hilarious effect. Her gardens are the only place where she finds true contentment and you'll usually find her in her favorite get-up, an old pair of dirt-stained jeans and a flannel t-shirt. What's not to love?
So when daddy dearest begins acting completely against type, asking if he can bring his assistant home for dinner, or concocting silly and annoying ways of getting Kate to run over to his lab in the middle of the day, everyone knows what's about to go down except Kate herself. Yes, it seems that the Russian intern, Pyotr, is the best researcher daddy has ever had. But Pyotr's green card is about to run its course and what better way to keep his own life status quo than to marry Kate off to Pyotr.
Suddenly Tyler's book looks more like "A Comedy of Errors," as Pyotr tries to woo a seemingly uninterested Kate, sister Bunny becomes an unwilling feminist, and daddy starts to look like the personification of evil. Since most of us know the storyline you'd think there'd be no sense of suspense and yet, to Tyler's credit, there actually is. How will it all shake out? Who will get the last laugh? Will the Russian and the Italian-American reach detente?
I read this book in a day and found myself having so much fun with it. Tyler's take on Shakespeare's comedy was the perfect antidote to the tragic "Here Comes the Sun." For a light, lively summer read brimming with humor and humanity, I haven't found a better recommendation so far.


Lesa said...

There's one we disagree about, Sally. It just didn't impress me. I was disappointed in the main character. It never felt as if Tyler got into the spirit of Taming of the Shrew. I wasn't impressed, and when a friend asked if she should read it, I said no.

Sallyb said...

Oh Lesa, You didn't like Kate? I admit that I didn't feel the connection that brought her together with Pyotr but I enjoyed her crustiness. I certainly agree that it's not Tyler's best work.