1×3 Review: Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler

1×3 Review: 1 book – 3 reviews. We picked this book out to be our first 1×3 review when we first launched. So in a sense, we’ve been eagerly awaiting this review. Back in the spring, Natalie shared an article with us about Anne Tyler and the Hogarth Shakespeare Project – a publishing group tasked with finding acclaimed novelists of today and enlisting them to retell the works of Shakespeare. Anne Tyler, a 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (for Breathing Lessons), takes on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in her own adaptation as Vinegar Girl.

vg-coverIn synopsis, Vinegar Girl introduces us to the 21st century Kate Battista, the 29-year-old daughter of a reclusive lab immunologist who has worked his entire adult life on a specialized immunology DNA project that has almost finally come to completion. Dr. Battista’s essential lab assistant from Russia, Pyotr Cherbakov, is about to be deported because of a visa expiration – unless he can get a legitimate green-card, from, say, marrying an American. While this plot point may feel borrowed from a movie like The Proposal, it’s not completely without credibility and serves as the “arranged marriage” necessitator. Dr. Battista works every angle possible on his introverted, somewhat-opinionated daughter to make this marriage happen. But what ends up happening by the end will, we think, both satisfy and surprise modern readers. Tyler’s version is no farce on marriage like Shakespeare’s Shrew is. Rather, she combines both perspectives of a typically modern male and female, shows their weaknesses and flaws, and helps them to begin to work through them – not by bringing out the female as the triumphing feminist heroine, but instead by showing how both the man and woman need to better understand and love each other – by finding a way to “let them into each other’s countries.” So we all enjoyed this book in different ways and had some fun chatting about our  favorite parts and how the book differed from Shakespeare’s original.

recommends Theo Coffee Dark Chocolate bar for reading this

Favorite Quote: My favorite quote explains the book’s title. Kate begrudgingly admits her own lack of tact or “sweetness” to people (which is why people generally like her sister better than her) and explaining the American idiom that “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” But then Pyotr says to Kate, “But why you would want to catch flies, hah? Answer me that, vinegar girl.”

Shakespeare vs. Tyler: Since Shakespeare’s is a play and Tyler’s is a book, it’s difficult to choose a favorite. Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is a delightful version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Tyler’s modern Kate is already tamed. Instead, marriage to Pyotr offers Kate the chance to pursue the life she desires. In Tyler’s version, we learn more about Kate and her inner thoughts simply because of the nature of a play versus a book. Tyler’s Kate is prickly, but she genuinely cares about her family and sacrifices herself to run the household in line with her father’s rules. I’m not sure that Kate is deeply in love with Pyotr when she marries him. I think she might be more in love with the idea of freedom, but Pyotr is a man she can admire and then love deeply. Although the plot is Shakespeare’s, Tyler makes it her own with her sometimes humorous and other times bittersweet look at family dynamics.

Favorite/Least Favorite Parts: I found the idea of a green card marriage a little unbelievable but not out of the realm of possibility. Tyler’s introduction of a possible love interest at Kate’s workplace added to the conflict Kate experienced while she made her decision, but the resolution of that was a little murky and left me feeling slightly confused.

AB – 
recommends Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups for reading this

Favorite quote: “Funny how you have to picture losing a thing before you think you might value it after all.”

Shakespeare vs. Tyler: Maybe I’m just too literal, but I found major differences between Vinegar Girl and The Taming of the Shrew, most notably between Shakespeare’s Petruchio and Tyler’s Pyotr. Pyotr’s tendency to speak bluntly is certainly reflective of Petruchio, but whereas Petruchio comes across as brash and condescending, Pyotr translates as mild and respectful.

Favorite/Least Favorite Parts: Do you remember that speech that Katherina gives at the end of the play in which she praises the role of the dutiful and subservient wife? The one that sends modern feminists into a rage? Well, I have to say that Tyler’s handling of that is masterful. Instead of taking Shakespeare’s exact approach, she has Kate come to the defense of husbands everywhere, which is a position increasingly rare in modern society. Still a shocking speech, just not in the same way.

– recommends a bag of dried mangos (both sweet & sour) while reading

Favorite Quote: As referenced, from Kate’s speech at the end: “It’s like men and women are in two different countries! I’m not ‘backing down,’ as you call it; I’m letting him into my country. I’m giving him space in a place where we can both be ourselves.”

Shakespeare vs. Tyler: I realize I differ with some analysts on this, but I’m of the literary critical opinion that Shakespeare’s play is intended to be a farce or satire – showing extreme actions/reactions in men and women, especially with regard to weddings and marriage. I don’t think he intended Katherina’s speech at the end to be “how women should behave toward their domineering husbands.” And I think Tyler (as she’s stated in interviews) takes the same approach. Except instead of satirizing some of the problems in marriages, she takes the storyline and creates a realistic version of it. She keeps Kate as a strong character while developing some maturity in her and giving her a better understanding of people, particularly the one she marries.

Favorite/Least Favorite Parts: While I enjoyed reading the story, I was a bit bored with it for most of the book. It just didn’t seem to be developing very much – until I got to that last chapter (with the quote I referenced above). At first, it seemed a little out of nowhere. But as I went back and re-read parts again, I saw what Tyler had been doing all along. So my “boredness” I think was a result of assuming she was going a certain direction. But with the skillfullness of a seasoned writer, she went somewhere completely different. Which is why I can say I love this book and recommend it wholeheartedly.

We hope you enjoyed our varied perspectives on this. Let us know what you think of the 1×3 approach. We welcome any feedback you might have.

Purchase Vinegar Girl here.


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2 thoughts on “1×3 Review: Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler

  1. Love this format of 1×3 reviews! I was surprised that Anne Tyler could make an arranged marriage seem believable without making Kate lose any of her dignity. I loved all the quotes you chose, but my favorite was “The unsatisfying thing about practicing restraint is that nobody knew you were practicing it.” Story of my life… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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