Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.
Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.
When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?
About the Author
Vinegar Girl sees Anne Tyler going behind the scenes of one of Shakespeare’s most controversial yet enduring (Kiss Me Kate, 10 Things I Hate About You) plays: "You how know sometimes a friend will tell you something that happened to her, and you think wait, there must be more to it than that, I’m sure there’s another side to this. Well, that’s how I’ve always felt about The Taming of the Shrew."
Date of Birth:October 25, 1941
Place of Birth:Minneapolis, Minnesota
Education:B.A., Duke University, 1961
Read an Excerpt
Kate Battista was gardening out back when she heard the telephone ring in the kitchen. She straightened up and listened. Her sister was in the house, although she might not be awake yet. But then there was another ring, and two more after that, and when she finally heard her sister’s voice it was only the announcement on the answering machine. “Hi-yee! It’s us? We’re not home, looks like? So leave a—”
By that time Kate was striding toward the back steps, tossing her hair off her shoulders with an exasperated “Tcch!” She wiped her hands on her jeans and yanked the screen door open. “Kate,” her father was saying, “pick up.”
She lifted the receiver. “What,” she said.
“I forgot my lunch.”
Her eyes went to the counter beside the fridge where, sure enough, his lunch sat precisely where she had set it the night before. She always used those clear plastic bags that supermarket produce came in, and the contents were plainly visible: a Tupperware sandwich box and an apple.
“Huh,” she said.
“Can you bring it?”
“Bring it now?”
“Jesus, Father. I’m not the Pony Express,” she said.
“What else have you got to do?” he asked her.
“It’s Sunday! I’m weeding the hellebores.”
“Ah, Kate, don’t be like that. Just hop in the car and zip over; there’s a good girl.”
“Sheesh,” she said, and she slammed the receiver down and took the lunch bag from the counter.
There were several strange things about this conversation. The first was that it had happened at all; her father distrusted the telephone. In fact, his lab didn’t even have a telephone, so he must have called on his cell phone. And that was unusual too, because his only reason for owning a cell phone was that his daughters had insisted. He had gone into a brief flurry of app purchases when he first acquired it—scientific calculators of various types, for the most part—and after that had lost all interest, and avoided it now altogether.
Then there was the fact that he forgot his lunch about twice a week, but had never before seemed to notice. The man did not eat, basically. Kate would get home from work and find his lunch still sitting on the counter, and yet even so she would have to shout for him three or four times that evening before he would come to dinner. Always he had something better to do, some journal to read or notes to go over. He would probably starve to death if he were living alone.
And supposing he did feel a bit peckish, he could have just stepped out and bought something. His lab was near the Johns Hopkins campus, and there were sandwich shops and convenience stores everywhere you looked.
Not to mention that it wasn’t even noon yet.
But the day was sunny and breezy, if cool—the first semi-decent weather after a long, hard, bitter winter—and she didn’t actually mind an excuse to get out in the world. She wouldn’t take the car, though; she would walk. Let him wait. (He himself never took the car, unless he had some sort of equipment to ferry. He was something of a health fiend.)
She stepped out the front door, shutting it extra hard behind her because it irked her that Bunny was sleeping so late. The ground cover along the front walk had a twiggy, littered look, and she made a mental note to spruce it up after she finished with the hellebores.
Swinging the lunch bag by its twist-tied neck, she passed the Mintzes’ house and the Gordons’ house—stately brick center-hall Colonials like the Battistas’ own, although better maintained—and turned the corner. Mrs. Gordon was kneeling among her azalea bushes, spreading mulch around their roots. “Why, hello there, Kate!” she sang out.
“Looks like spring might be thinking of coming!”
Kate strode on without slowing, her buckskin jacket flying out behind her. A pair of young women—most likely Hopkins students—drifted at a snail’s pace ahead of her. “I could tell he wanted to ask me,” one was saying, “because he kept clearing his throat in that way they do, you know? But then not speaking.”
“I love when they’re so shy,” the other one said.
Kate veered around them and kept going.
At the next street she took a left, heading toward a more mixed-and-mingled neighborhood of apartments and small cafés and houses partitioned into offices, and eventually she turned in at yet another brick Colonial. This one had a smaller front yard than the Battistas’ but a larger, grander portico. Six or eight plaques beside the front door spelled out the names of various offbeat organizations and obscure little magazines. There was no plaque for Louis Battista, though. He had been shunted around to so many different buildings over the years, landing finally in this orphan location near the university but miles from the medical complex, that he’d probably decided it just wasn’t worth the effort.
In the foyer an array of mailboxes lined one wall, and sliding heaps of flyers and takeout menus covered the rickety bench beneath them. Kate walked past several offices, but only the Christians for Buddha door stood open. Inside she glimpsed a trio of women grouped around a desk where a fourth woman sat dabbing her eyes with a tissue. (Always something going on.) Kate opened another door at the far end of the hall and descended a flight of steep wooden stairs. At the bottom she paused to punch in the code: 1957, the date Witebsky first defined the criteria for autoimmune disorders.
The room she entered was tiny, furnished only by a card table and two metal folding chairs. A brown paper bag sat on the table; another lunch, it looked like. She set her father’s lunch next to it and then went over to a door and gave a couple of brisk knocks. After a moment, her father poked his head out—his satiny bald scalp bordered by a narrow band of black hair, his olive-skinned face punctuated by a black mustache and round-lensed, rimless spectacles. “Ah, Kate,” he said. “Come in.”
“No, thanks,” she said. She never could abide the smells of the place—the thin, stinging smell of the lab itself and the dry-paper smell of the mouse room. “Your lunch is on the table,” she said. “Bye.”
He turned from her to speak to someone in the room behind him. “Pyoder? Come out and say hello to my daughter.”
“I’ve got to go,” Kate said.
“I don’t think you’ve ever met my research assistant,” her father said.
But the door opened wider, and a solid, muscular man with straight yellow hair stepped up to stand next to her father. His white lab coat was so dingy that it very nearly matched Dr. Battista’s pale-gray coveralls. “Vwouwv!” he said. Or that was what it sounded like, at least. He was gazing at Kate admiringly. Men often wore that look when they first saw her. It was due to a bunch of dead cells: her hair, which was blue-black and billowy and extended below her waist.
“This is Pyoder Cherbakov,” her father told her.
“Pyotr,” the man corrected him, allowing no space at all between the sharp-pointed t and the ruffly, rolling r. And “Shcherbakov,” explosively spitting out the mishmash of consonants.
Pyoder, meet Kate.”
“Hi,” Kate said. “See you later,” she told her father.
“I thought you might stay a moment.”
“Well, you’ll need to take back my sandwich box, will you not?”
“Well, you can bring it back yourself, can you not?”
A sudden hooting sound made both of them glance in Pyotr’s direction. “Just like the girls in my country,” he said, beaming. “So rude-spoken.”
“Just like the women,” Kate said reprovingly.
“Yes, they also. The grandmothers and the aunties.”
She gave up on him. “Father,” she said, “will you tell Bunny she has to stop leaving such a mess when she has her friends in? Did you see the TV room this morning?”
“Yes, yes,” her father said, but he was heading back into the lab as he spoke. He returned, pushing a high stool on wheels. He parked it next to the table. “Have a seat,” he told her.
“I need to get back to my gardening.”
“Please, Kate,” he said. “You never keep me company.”
She stared at him. “Keep you company?”
“Sit, sit,” he said, motioning toward the stool. “You can have part of my sandwich.”
“I’m not hungry,” she said. But she perched awkwardly on the stool, still staring at him.
“Pyoder, sit. You can share my sandwich too, if you want. Kate made it especially. Peanut butter honey on whole-wheat.”
“You know I do not eat peanut butter,” Pyotr told him severely. He pulled out one of the folding chairs and settled catty-corner to Kate. His chair was considerably lower than her stool, and she could see how the hair was starting to thin across the top of his head. “In my country, peanuts are pigs’ food.”
“Ha, ha,” Dr. Battista said. “He’s very humorous, isn’t he, Kate?”
“They eat them with the shells on,” Pyotr said.
He had trouble with th sounds, Kate noticed. And his vowels didn’t seem to last long enough. She had no patience with foreign accents.
“Were you surprised that I used my cell phone?” her father asked her. He was still standing, for some reason. He pulled his phone from a pocket in his coveralls. “You girls were right; it comes in handy,” he said. “I’m going to start using it more often now.” He frowned down at it for a moment, as if he were trying to remember what it was. Then he punched a button and held it in front of his face. Squinting, he took several steps backward. There was a mechanical clicking sound. “See? It takes photographs,” he said.
“Erase it,” Kate ordered.
“I don’t know how,” he said, and the phone clicked again.
“Damn it, Father, sit down and eat. I need to get back to my gardening.”
“All right, all right.”
He tucked the phone away and sat down. Pyotr, meanwhile, was opening his lunch bag. He pulled out two eggs and then a banana and placed them on the flattened paper bag in front of him. “Pyoder believes in bananas,” Dr. Battista confided. “I keep telling him about apples, but does he listen?” He was opening his own lunch bag, taking out his apple. “Pectin! Pectin!” he told Pyotr, shaking the apple under Pyotr’s nose.
“Bananas are miracle food,” Pyotr said calmly, and he picked his up and started peeling it. He had a face that was almost hexagonal, Kate noticed—his cheekbones widening to two sharp points, the angles of his jaw two more points slanting to the point of his chin, and the long strands of his hair separating over his forehead to form the topmost point. “Also eggs,” he was saying. “The egg of the hen! So cleverly self-contained.”
“Kate makes my sandwich for me every single night before she goes to bed,” Dr. Battista said. “She’s very domestic.”
“Peanut butter, though,” Pyotr said.
“Yes,” Pyotr said with a sigh. He sent her a look of regret. “But is certainly pretty enough.”
“You should see her sister.”
Kate said, “Oh! Father!”
“This sister is where?” Pyotr asked.
“Well, Bunny is only fifteen. She’s still in high school.”
Okay,” Pyotr said. He returned his gaze to Kate.
Kate wheeled her stool back sharply and stood up. “Don’t forget your Tupperware,” she told her father.
"What! You’re leaving? Why so soon?”
But Kate just said, “Bye”—mostly addressing Pyotr, who was watching her with a measuring look—and she marched to the door and flung it open.
“Katherine, dearest, don’t rush off!” Her father stood up. “Oh, dear, this isn’t going well at all. It’s just that she’s so busy, Pyoder. I can never get her to sit down and take a little break. Did I tell you she runs our whole house? She’s very domestic. Oh, I already said that. And she has a full-time job besides. Did I tell you she teaches preschool? She’s wonderful with small children.”
“Why are you talking this way?” Kate demanded, turning on him. “What’s come over you? I hate small children; you know that.”
There was another hooting sound from Pyotr. He was grinning up at her. “Why you hate small children?” he asked her.
“Well, they’re not very bright, if you’ve noticed.”
He hooted again. What with his hooting and the banana he held, he reminded her of a chimpanzee. She spun away and stalked out, letting the door slam shut, and climbed the stairs two at a time.
Behind her, she heard the door open again. Her father called, “Kate?” She heard his steps on the stairs, but she strode on toward the front of the building.
His steps softened as he arrived on the carpet. “I’ll just see you out, why don’t I?” he called after her.
See her out?
But she paused when she reached the front door. She turned to watch him approach.
“I’ve handled things badly,” he said. He smoothed his scalp with one palm. His coveralls were one-size-fits-all and they ballooned in the middle, giving him the look of a Teletubby. “I didn’t mean to make you angry,” he said.
“I’m not angry; I’m . . .”
But she couldn’t say the word “hurt.” It might bring tears to her eyes. “I’m fed up,” she said instead.
“I don’t understand.”
She could believe that, actually. Face it: he was clueless.
clueless.“And what were you trying to do back there?” she asked him, setting her fists on her hips. “Why were you acting so . . . peculiar with that assistant?”
“He’s not ‘that assistant’; he’s Pyoder Cherbakov, whom I’m very lucky to have. Just look: he came in on a Sunday! He does that often. And he’s been with me nearly three years, by the way, so I would think you would at least be familiar with his name.”
“Three years? What happened to Ennis?”
“Good Lord! Ennis! Ennis was two assistants back.”
“Oh,” she said.
She didn’t know why he was acting so irritable. It wasn’t as if he ever talked about his assistants—or about anything, in fact.
“I seem to have a little trouble keeping them,” he said. “It may be that to outsiders, my project is not looking very promising.”
This wasn’t something he had admitted before, although from time to time Kate had wondered. It made her feel sorry for him, suddenly. She let her hands drop to her sides.
“I went to a great deal of effort to bring Pyoder to this country,” he said. “I don’t know if you realize. He was only twenty-five at the time, but everybody who’s anybody in autoimmunity had heard of him. He’s brilliant. He qualified for an O‑1 visa, and that’s not something you often see these days.”
“Well, good, Father.”
“An extraordinary-ability visa; that’s what an O‑1 is. It means that he possesses some extraordinary skill or knowledge that no one here in this country has, and that I am involved in some extraordinary research that justifies my needing him.”
“Good for you.”
“O‑1 visas last three years.”
She reached out to touch his forearm. “Of course you’re anxious about your project,” she said, in what she hoped was an encouraging tone. “But I bet things will be fine.”
“You really think so?” he asked.
She nodded and gave his arm a couple of clumsy pats, which he must not have been expecting because he looked startled. “I’m sure of it,” she told him. “Don’t forget to bring your sandwich box home.”
Then she opened the front door and walked out into the sunshine. Two of the Christians for Buddha women were sitting on the steps with their heads together. They were laughing so hard about something that it took them a moment to notice her, but then they drew apart to let her pass.
Reading Group Guide
In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal certain aspects of the story in this novel. If you have not finished reading Vinegar Girl, we respectfully suggest that you do so before reviewing this guide.
1. Compare and contrast Tyler’s Vinegar Girl with Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
2. Do you think Tyler’s Kate was less of a “shrew” than Shakespeare’s Katherine?
3. Discuss Kate and Pyotr’s first meeting. Did you think there was a connection or chemistry there from the beginning?
4. Did you like how Tyler transformed the misogynistic Petruchio to the quirky Pyotr? Do you think he was a good match for her sarcastic Kate?
5. Kate is unsatisfied with her life at home and at work, but has done nothing to change her situation. Do you think her father strong suggestion to marry Pyotr was actually what she needed to change her life?
6. Discuss the character of Bunny and the role she plays in Kate’s life.
7. Tyler is a master writer when it comes to depicting family relationships. Discuss the family dynamic in Vinegar Girl. Do you think all families struggle with the balance of acting selfishly and selflessly?
8. Were you surprised when Kate was so upset when Pyotr does not show up to the church on time?
9. Discuss Kate’s speech at the end of the novel. Do you agree with her?
10. What was your reaction to the story’s Epilogue? Is that how you imagined Kates’ life to turn out?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
[I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley. I thank them for their generousity. In exchange, I was simply asked to write an honest review, and post it. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising] “Wait!” she wanted to tell them. “Don’t you think I’m worth more than this? I shouldn’t have to go through with this! I deserve to have a real romance, someone who loves me for myself and thinks I’m a treasure. Someone who showers me with flowers and handwritten poems and dream catchers.” Kate Battista, oldest child of Dr. Louis Battista and sister of Bernice ( Bunny), had lived with and kept house for them ever since her mother had died. It was what was expected, it was her life after leaving college. She may not have liked it, but she accepted it because she felt she'd had no choice. She worked at the pre-school nearby, and tried to subdue her own thoughts even though they often rose unbidden, and was afraid her job was in danger all the time because of it. And then her father's lab assitant, Pyotr, runs into trouble. His visa is about to expire. Dr. Battista has a wonderful idea! Kate will marry Pyotr and nothing will change. They will let Pyotr live with them, of course seperate from Kate, and thing will not change. After all, Kate will do what's asked, what's expected, without....much....complaining. Pyotr, however, has other ideas. He and "Katya" will live in his apartment and they will have their own life. However,....has anyone even thought to ask Kate? When she agrees, then things start to change..... Anyone who hasn't read "Taming of the Shrew" and/ or seen the movie "Kiss Me Kate" really ought to. In THIS book, Anne Tyler has taken the story and retold it to fit today. It is set in Baltimore, but truely echos the original in scope and personality. I really loved it! I have not been as excited about a series since Jan Karon's books. Hogarth Press has taken on a task in find authors to tackle Shakespeare, and so far, both in Vinegar Girl and Shylock is my Name, they are suceeding mightly! Bravo Hogarth, and Brava Anne Tyler!
I must confess to having read ALL Anne Tykers books; and yes i have enjoyed them all
Anne Tyler's true art is in her ability to place the reader in the same room with her characters. You feel their anxiety just as acutely as you feel their happiness. I flew through this story in a flash and, as always, feel the loss of my newest family.
“She had always been such a handful – a thorny child, a sullen teenager, a failure as a college student. What was to be done with her? But now they had the answer: marry her off. They would never give her another moment’s thought” Vinegar Girl is the twenty-first novel by American author, Anne Tyler, and is written under the Hogarth Shakespeare banner. It is billed as William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew retold. At twenty-nine, Kate Battista is in a dead-end job she doesn’t particularly like, and saddled with looking after her air-head fifteen-year-old sister and her workaholic father. Kate is no shrinking violet though: she lets them know what irritates her in no uncertain terms. Her boss suggests she practice restraint but: “The unsatisfying thing about practicing restraint was that nobody knew you were practicing it” So when Dr Louis Battista suggests she marry Pyotr Shcherbakov, his brilliant research assistant, whose O-1 visa is about to run out, she lets her father know how she feels: “We are not in another culture, and this is not an arranged marriage. This is human trafficking….You’re sending me to live with a stranger, sleep with a stranger, just for your own personal gain” Pyotr tries to court Kate, despite her irritability, her rudeness and her flat refusal to help. And despite the gross insult she perceives at the suggestion, his enthusiasm, his lack of guile and his straight talking begins to weaken her resolve “…they say you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” she tells him. “Yes, they would,” Pyotr said, mysteriously. “But why would you want to catch flies, hah? Answer me that, vinegar girl” Anne Tyler’s version of this classic Shakespeare tale is an absolute delight. Her characters are ordinary people with flaws and believable quirks; their dialogue is just as ordinary and everyday; and yet, they are endearing, each in their own way. Her descriptive prose is marvellous: “an unhealthy-looking young man with patchy beige chin whiskers that reminded Kate of lichen”. And the tale is filled with humour: the reader will find themselves smiling, chuckling and (at least at the wedding ceremony) laughing out loud. Witty and funny.
Throughout literature there are stories about difficult women. A few authors are taking those stories and retelling them, giving a fuller picture of what made these women become difficult. Vinegar Girls tells one of those stories, Katherine the Shrew from Taming of the Shrew. Like the Shakespeare story Katherine lives with her father and younger sister. This Katherine has had to grow up quickly, taking her late mother's role within the family and help raise her younger sister. Tyler explores what it's like to grow up in that household and that shapes Kate's personality. If I had one problem with the book is that it ended a bit quickly. I wanted to see how Kate and Pyotr moved from a marriage of convenience to a marriage of love.
It's been my pleasure to have read each and every one of Ann Tyler's novels and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite ! This little book is a joy--- Shakespeare must be smiling !
Once again, Ms. Tyler does not disappoint. A nice easy read with charming characters, a nod to Shakespeare. I enjoyed it very much and read it in one session.
Wonderful version of a classic
Cute story with a believable ending. The moral i believe is be yourself and let others to who they are too. Glad i read it.
Anne Tyler writes a take-off on "Taming of the Shrew," commissioned by the Hogarth Shakespeare project, as only she can. Her signature quirky characters make this story rise above the original plot's misogyny. Kate is an awkward, single 30-year old who lives with her scientist father and teenage sister. Kate has been in charge of the household since their mother died when the girls were children. She is acerbic, direct, and non-social. At her work in a pre-school, she is often reprimanded for her remarks to parents. She is afraid of losing her job, but she has no plan B, and drifts directionlessly letting things happen to her. Enter her father's lab assistant, Pyotr (which everyone consistently mispronounces), whose visa is running out. Kate's father arranges for Kate and Pyotr to marry to keep Pyotr in the country and assisting his project. While Kate is not taken with Pyotr, who is at least as socially awkward as she, she concedes to the plan after some objection. She explains to her sister that this will get her out of her father's house and offer her more options than her current life. Spoiler alert: Though the plan was to marry "on paper only," the Epilogue reveals that the marriage sticks and they have a son. Other Epilogue details also reveal that not much else has changed. I enjoyed this book and at times laughed out loud. My favorite quote: "The unsatisfying thing about practicing restraint was that nobody knew you were practicing it."
Kate Battista is not exactly thrilled with her life. She takes care of her forgetful father, a preoccupied research immunologist, and her sister, a teenage girl who thinks of little besides boys. She also takes care of their home and does all of the chores. In addition, she works as an assistant teacher with four-year-olds, but even that is not going at all well. Her father relies on her too much. But when he asks for her help with his brilliant lab assistant’s problem, that is just going too far. Insulted, she starts to examine her life. She’s lived twenty-nine years and doesn’t have much to show for it. Based on Shakespeare’s TAMING OF THE SHREW, this story is funny and light. It is a cute story. However, I had expected more, because I know that Anne Tyler is a very experienced writer. This book seemed more like a children’s book in its writing style. Having such constraints as to recreate Shakespeare’s story while also updating it for today’s readers, must have been difficult and very limiting, though. Still her characters grew on me and made me want to read to discover the outcome. I enjoyed this book.
Vinegar Girl was a deliglhtful Hogarth Shakespeare book written by Anne Tyler. Enjoyable revisiting of "Taming of the Shrew." Kate is our protagonist, and she is the spunky older daughter, who cares for her widowed dad and her younger sister "Bunny." Her dad is a nerdy but gifted scientist, who is studying auto-immune diseases. When his lab assistant Pyotr is in danger of deportation, Kate's father desperately begs her to marry Pyotr. Her decision, and the ensuing consequences, form the remainder of the book. I won't give away any spoliers, but I highly recommend this book, and I wish I could give it more than five stars!
My curiosity was piqued to know how Tyler would a put modern day twist on the Shakespeare classic - and it was cleverly done! This is an uncomplex, simple read with its own charm. I loved her wit and how she handled some of the popular scenes from The Taming of the Shrew.
This book was excellent! The humor is very subtle and made me laugh out loud. I'm going to buy more Anne Tyler books!
Even those who are not Shakespeare aficionados are probably familiar with one of his most vaunted tales - The Taming Of The Shrew. Whether seen on stage or on screen folks love it and that may well be the reaction to Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler’s whimsical take on the story. Kate Battista is a preschool assistant who is apparently undervalued by her father, her younger sister, Bunny, and most available men. Dad is a scientist who firmly believes that his research will prove groundbreaking if he can just keep his lab assistant, Pyotr Shcherbakov. Problem is Pyotr’s visa is near expiration - how to keep him in the country? Dad thinks the obvious solution is for Kate to marry Pyotr. And in order to convince her to take a walk down the aisle he reminds Kate in his own tactful way that she isn’t exactly surrounded by suitors while her not-half-as-bright sister has boys lined up at the door even though she’s still in high school. Obviously Kate is hurt by her father’s thoughtfulness, and Pyotr doesn’t seem to quite understand the plan (he finds it a strange cultural system). Ultimately Vinegar Girl evolves into a kind of love story. Can Kate resist the efforts of these two men to see her wed? Tyler’s humor takes center stage in this tale masterfully read by Kirsten Potter.
Vinegar Girl, The Taming of the Shrew Retold, (Hogarth Shakespeare), Anne Tyler Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews Genre: Literary Fiction I remember reading some Shakespeare plays at school – but that's a long time ago....and of course with Him Indoors being a TV and Film fanatic I’ve seen bits of McClintock many, many times. I’m usually reading but it kind of seeps into you after the 4th or 5th time...a kind of TV by Osmosis practice! Anne Tyler is an author whose works I’ve never read either, so I went in to this blind, not really knowing what to expect. How would a Pulitzer Prize winning author take on Shakespeare? Actually this whole Hogarth series sounds intriguing, different authors retelling different plays. Its a slow starting novel, Waspish Kate looking after her family, working at a job which I don’t really feel she loves, or even really likes, it's just one that's a way of passing time, earning money to her. She ruins the home according to her scientist fathers strange rules, everything worked out for optimum efficiency – the meat mash – eurghh – sounds awful. There’s no real joy in her life, younger sister Bunny has fun but for Kate this just feels like a hamster wheel day-after-day with nothing changing. Then her father drops his bombshell plan! It was an interesting read, but for me just too slow, too bland and not really an engaging one. I kept reading as I wanted to see how Anne would make things work, but I can’t say I was gripped, didn’t have that must keep reading feel for me. Its well written, and is an easy book to read but I was left feeling a bit empty by it, as though I really wanted something more to happen, more emotion, more angst, more anything but the eternal plodding life poor Kate lead. She didn’t really help herself either though and at 29 I felt she would have put her foot down by now over at least some of the things that irritated her. Stars: Three, well written, gentle humour but overall one that didn’t spark anything special in me. ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher
***This book was provided to me by “Library Thing” as an Early Reviewer copy. This novel is billed as a modern day rewrite of "The Taming of the "Shrew". It is such a pleasant read, without the usual sex and violence that is so prevalent today in books that seem to go on forever for no apparent reason. I found the characters delightfully quirky and enjoyed reading about the developing relationship between Kate Battista and Pyotr Shcherbakov, two characters whose actions were obvious and without guile. The book presents a picture of male chauvinism in a self-deprecating way which is very appealing. The characters seem naïve and unschooled in the social graces and rules of political correctness that permeate so much of life today. Subtly, Tyler points a finger at a world that worships appearance above intelligence, that succumbs to irrational demands above common sense and that often overreacts. The novel is written with a light touch, with tongue in cheek humor as the characters are developed. Their antics are a bit hokey, but they always made me smile. Tyler has developed the characters so clearly that I can picture them in the flesh, hear them in my mind’s eye and root for them to find happiness and success. Subtly, Tyler has analyzed and exposed the frailties and failures of today’s society. Dr. Battista, father of Kate, 29, and Bunny, 15, is obsessed with order and organization. He is a creature of habit, and Kate, still unmarried, adheres to his rules and follows them strictly at home. Kate works as a teaching assistant in the Little People’s School. She doesn’t seem to have a filter and says whatever comes to her mind, often insulting people without realizing it or realizing it too late, since she speaks honestly and openly, to adults and children, without much advance thought about discretion. Pyotr is the higly acclaimed assistant to Dr. Battista. He is from Russia and is in the United States on a visa that is about to expire. He was found on a porch in a box for canned peaches. There was a note attached that simply said he was two days old. He has no known family. Although he is focused, has a steady job and a plan for his future, he feels out of place with no home and he longs to belong and fit into the world. When Dr. Battista suddenly begins acting oddly, taking a greater interest in Kate, she begins to wonder why. Then she realizes that he is playing matchmaker. He is trying to get her romantically involved with his assistant so that he can remain in the United States. His visa is about to end, and he will be forced to return to Russia. This will detrimentally affect Dr. Battista’s years of work and status. He wants her to marry Pyotr to give him legal status. She rebuffs her father and Pyotr. Kate has been the nursemaid, housekeeper, cook, surrogate parent, and even tax accountant for her father. He doesn’t seem to realize the audacity of his latest request. The “favor” he is asking of her is life-altering and illegal. However, as Kate gets to know Pyotr and realizes the depth of her father’s despair, she begins to waiver in her reluctance to agree. At the same time she begins to have thoughts about breaking away and finding her own freedom and independence. Somehow, her friendship with Pyotr has made her understand that she needs to be on her own, needs to get out from under her father, out from his house and into one of her own. Perhaps as she opens a door for Pyotr, he can open one for her. Perhaps
While I have never read "The Taming of the Shrew", yes I admitted it, I had no idea what I was about to read. I read the blurb, saw it was one of the most requested books on Net Galley and I thought "what the heck". I am certainly glad I went ahead and requested it. While short, it was a very entertaining read. I still know nothing about the Shakespeare version, but this one was very good. I was surprised at the ending though. I did not think it would turn out that way. I can see now why it was one of the most requested books. I certainly enjoyed and was glad I requested it and was approved. Thanks to Crown Publishing and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a highly recommended adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew done for Hogarth Press's Shakespeare project where authors are required to modernize one of the Bard's works. Tackling a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew is a major feat in itself and Tyler does an admirable job despite the limitations placed on her due to the very nature of the project. Kate Battista, 29, is the vinegar girl. She has firm opinions, is outspoken, and values her individuality, but has little opportunity to really exercise this trait. Kate is stuck running the house for her eccentric and needy scientist father, trying to enforce his rules with her 15 year old sister, Bunny, and working as an aide at a preschool, even though she doesn't really like children. Kate is stuck in a routine, but even she couldn't envision the plan her father has cooked up for her. It seems that Dr. Battista's lab assistant, Pyotr Shcherbakov,is here on an O-1 visa that is about to expire and he is not sure how his research can go on without his brilliant young assistant. Dr. Battista has decided that if he can get Kate to marry Pyotr, then Pyotr won't be deported and his research will certainly be able to make some breakthroughs. After all, Kate doesn't have any suitors or real plans, and at least she can be helping him out (even more) if she'll just cooperate. Kate wishes he could just marry Pyotr himself and leave her out of it. This is The Taming of the Shrew transformed into a tale of a marriage of convenience for a green card via Tyler's inimitable style. She uses satirical humor and a keen understanding of human nature to create characters that are memorable in their own right. Tyler notes that this is her attempt to tell the other side of the story, the part that will help make the illogical or inconceivable story in of The Taming of the Shrew make more sense today. She does deftly retell the story in a new, compassionate way and creates some memorable characters. Really, how could anything Anne Tyler writes be bad? She has a gift. Personally, I think if Tyler were allowed to use The Taming of the Shrew simply an inspiration to plot her own story in her own way, this could have been even more successful for me. She could have done so much more with her characters if she had free reign to change the plot or add some more complexities. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.