cover image Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl

Anne Tyler. Random/Hogarth, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8041-4126-0

In the latest of Hogarth’s Shakespeare series, Pulitzer-winner Tyler transposes the famously shrewish Kate and her would-be master Petruchio to Tyler country—Baltimore’s genteel Roland Park neighborhood. There, preschool assistant Kate Battista takes care of her widowed father and much younger, conventionally prettier sister, both of whom take her for granted—that is, until her scientist father decides that the way to keep Pyotr, his research assistant, from losing his visa is for Kate to marry him. Considering Dr. Battista’s maladroit personality and Pyotr’s blunt and sometimes overly literal approach, Kate, who is less shrewish than plainspoken, actually seems quite patient. Though farcical in parts, Shakespeare’s play has a dark strand—Petruchio is borderline abusive, and critics are divided about whether Kate’s speech calling for women to obey their husbands is meant to be sincere, ironic, or perhaps a sign of love. In Tyler’s version, Kate’s speech is supportive of Pyotr, and defensible. Which makes sense, since Kate and Pyotr, despite their untoward and hasty courtship, clearly like and appreciate each other. Ultimately, the tale succeeds as the kind of love story in which the most surprised people are the protagonists—which, arguably, could be said of the original as well—but Shakespeare’s powerful emotions are absent here. It is not the shrew who is tamed, but the tale itself. (June)