This book is part of Vintage’s Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which a group of prominent authors have reimagined various Shakespeare’s plays and characters and placed them in our contemporary world. Some of the the other authors in the series are Jo Nesbo, Gillian Flynn Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood, Edward St. Aubyn and a number of other equally talented writers.
Vinegar Girl is a take off on “The Taming of the Shrew.” One would imagine this would be a difficult one as relationships between men and women are very different in our modern world. Or, are they? In Anne Tyler’s capable hands, it would seem not so.
Tyler sets her story in Baltimore in a small neighborhood not far from Johns Hopkins where Louis Battista, an eccentric biologist, has his laboratory. Louis is working on some kind of breakthrough project, and he is about to lose his top research assistant, a Russian named Pyotr, because his visa has run out.
To say the Battista family is eccentric is putting it mildly. His elder daughter, Katherine, is a 29 year old elementary teacher, who freely admits she finds children irritating. The younger daughter, Bunny, an augmentative 15 year old has decided to become a vegan. They all inhabit separate planets, circling around each other in a household that is out of control. The house is messy and unkempt with papers and books everywhere. Katherine prepares one giant meal on the weekend that lasts the week. It is always the same meal, called meat mash. In desperation to keep his assistant, Louis has an idea. You have probably guessed what this idea is—marry off Katherine to Pyotr. But not so fast, Katherine is cranky, somewhat odd, outspoken and certainly not interested in saving her father’s job by marrying man who to her seems unconventional and slightly strange, not to mention his choice of clothes. On the other hand, the Battista household is so crazy that marriage could be the way out.
Luckily for the reader Anne Tyler has written a hilarious story peopled with oddballs. Every little detail lends itself to the plot of the story, and she is able to stay true to Shakespeare’s comedy by writing a book that is fun, clever, light-hearted and enjoyable.