Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Hogarth, 2016; 240 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is the latest installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which features major authors reimagining Shakespeare’s plays in the modern era. For her entry into the series, Tyler brings The Taming of the Shrew to the quiet Baltimore neighborhoods that have provided the setting for her novels throughout her career. Vinegar Girl follows strong-willed Kate Battista, a 29-year-old who’s never shied from confrontation. Her prickly attitude has always kept her at a distance from others. Since her mother's death a few years prior, Kate has been the de facto caregiver to her teenage sister and neurotic scientist father. At a crossroads in her life and not sure how she can change, Kate finds herself pressured by her father to marry Pyotr, his lab assistant who faces deportation. Kate has little in common with Pyotr, but her impressions of him soon change once she realizes he's as strong-willed and opinionated as she is.
Tyler streamlines Shakespeare’s narrative significantly to make it fit its modern setting without sacrificing the core of the play’s ideas. Perhaps the greatest pleasure in reading Vinegar Girl is watching the balancing act Tyler performs to make the story work in twenty-first-century Baltimore while making us believe that Kate will succumb to Pyotr’s magnetism while still maintaining the code of who she is. Perhaps the events come together more simply than the reader would suspect, something we could forgive given the parameters by which the book is being written. Tyler, like in her previous books, has such a way with eccentric yet endearing and fully realized characters that the reader might not give it a second thought. I didn’t. I enjoyed wandering Baltimore with Tyler’s characters too much.