Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book 50: Vinegar Girl

"At such moments, Kate felt like an imposter. Who was she to order a child to take a nap? She completely lacked authority, and all the children knew it; they seemed to view her as just an extra-tall, more obstreperous four-year-old." 

Dates read: May 7-8, 2016

Rating: 4/10

When I was a teenager, "classic literature modernized" movie adaptations were all the rage: Emma became Clueless, Pygmalion became She's All That, and (one of my personal favorites) The Taming of the Shrew became 10 Things I Hate About You. The charm of a very-new-to-Hollywood Heath Ledger, the great quibbling sister dynamic established by Julia Stiles and Larisa Oleynik...and Julia Stiles' totally badass interpretation of Shakespeare's Katherina. I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder when I was that age (I realize this hardly makes me unique among teenagers), so I very much identified with Stiles' Kat and the devil-may-care persona she crafted to fit over her vulnerabilities.

My fond memories of that movie, I suppose, makes me predisposed to be fond of adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew. Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, re-writings/modernizations of Shakespeare's principal plays by prominent authors. Tyler tells us the story of Kate Battista, a blunt and off-putting young woman who cares for her flaky little sister Bunny and maintains the household for her father, a researcher of autoimmune diseases. She's plenty smart, but has dropped out of college after a confrontation with a professor and works as a teacher's assistant at a day care. Her father's research has taken a turn for the promising when he's about to lose his gifted young assistant, Pyotr, to an expired Dr. Battista asks Kate to marry the fellow so he can stick around.

As much as I'm excited about some of the upcoming Hogarth Shakespeare entries (Gillian Flynn taking on Hamlet is going to be awesome), I'll be honest: I didn't like this one. Perhaps it was the 250 page length, but it didn't feel developed enough. I never bought the family dynamics, or really understood Kate as a character: to me, she seemed almost written as though she's on the spectrum: she's very literal and disinclined to seek out social connection. But I don't know that I think it was Tyler's intention to invite that interpretation. I didn't get her relationship with her father or sister, neither of which seemed very warm or rich. A deep bond with them might explain why an intelligent 29 year old would have been content to work a dead-end job for years on end to take care of them, but that wasn't ever even really hinted at, much less shown. Speaking of unearned feelings that are never actually drawn and apparently just supposed to be inferred, Kate and Pyotr's growing affection for each other after she has agreed to the immigration fraud plan never rings true either. They have a handful of awkward encounters that Kate professes to find discomfiting...and then we're supposed to be on board when she apparently really wants to marry him after all. Skip this and watch 10 Things I Hate About You and swoon over a baby Heath Ledger singing Stevie Wonder instead.

Tell me, blog friends...what's your favorite Shakespeare play or adaptation?

One year ago, I was reading: Kramer v Kramer


  1. This book was on my TBR, but I'll probably skip it now - so thanks for this review : ) I agree, Gillian Flynn's will likely be awesome. I'll save the space made for that new addition!

    1. Some people got a lot more out of this than I did, but I just kept waiting for it to start being special and it never did for me