Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Shakespeare’s comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, is one of the more problematic stories for a modern reader, so I was interested to see how Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Anne Tyler addressed the deeply misogynistic themes of the original in her contemporary retelling, Vinegar Girl.
Kate Battista is strong and capable; running the household for her scatterbrained scientist father and airheaded teenaged sister, whilst also working part-time at a preschool. But Kate feels rudderless – her own education came to a grinding halt after she was kicked out of college for telling her botany professor that his explanation of photosynthesis was ‘half-assed’, and she’s on notice at her job for her distinct lack of ‘Tact. Restraint. Diplomacy.’ Her personal life is also floundering: her family’s reliance on her has left her with few friends, and her crush on drippy, guitar-playing, dream-catcher-making workmate Adam is (mercifully) unrequited.
Enter Pyotr Scherbakov. Or, more accurately, enter the US Department of Immigration, and the impending termination of Pyotr Scherbakov’s O-1 visa. Kate’s scientist father has been reliant on his passionate, but unconventional, young lab assistant for three years, and has cooked up a plan to keep him in the country … he just needs his contrary, headstrong, and obstinate eldest child to agree.
Vinegar Girl is enormously good fun, populated with wonderfully rendered characters, and – considering the source material – a remarkably believable premise. Her ‘shrew’ is a decidedly modern young woman whose prickly exterior belies a gentle soul, but it’s Pyotr who steals the show: his stumbling courtship of Kate and tenuous grasp on the English language give him an endearing naivety that is counterbalanced by an obviously brilliant mind and affecting back story. This unconventional love story is witty, clever, beautifully written and deeply satisfying, and if the eventual ‘taming’ left me a little off-kilter, it certainly didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book.
Lian Hingee is the digital marketing manager for Readings.