by Anne Tyler is a 2016 retelling of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew
. The book was published as part of Random House’s “Hogarth Shakespeare” project. The book’s protagonist, Kate Battista, is just as strong-willed as Shakespeare’s Katherina. Likewise, both protagonists are prickly with those around them.
As Vinegar Girl
begins, Kate is in her garden when her father, Dr. Battista, calls her on the phone. He forgot his lunch and would like her to bring it to him. Kate agrees and, at Dr. Battista’s lab, she meets Pyotr, the lab assistant.
Pyotr has a problem. His visa will soon expire and he’s at risk for deportation. But Dr. Battista insists that he needs Pyotr in order to continue his research, so he wants Kate and Pyotr to marry so that Pyotr can stay in the country and in the lab. Kate takes offense to this suggestion and digs her heels in—she won’t marry Pyotr. However, the more she thinks about her own situation and her loneliness, the more she wonders if she should marry Pyotr, much as she despises the way the marriage would come about. Kate also thinks that being rushed into such a marriage is the only kind of relationship she deserves.
Kate works as a preschool teacher’s aide. After she initially refuses her father’s suggestion to marry Pyotr, she goes to work and watches the other women she works with. Kate feels different from them; where they’re warm, she’s standoffish. Feeling like an outsider, she still rebuffs Pyotr’s attempts to get close to her. Aside from the problem with his visa, he’s attracted to Kate because of her personality, not despite it. The moment Kate starts to allow Pyotr into her life, she realizes that she is and rejects him again before he can get too close.
Because Kate reminds Pyotr of the women he revered at home, he is attracted to her despite her continued refusals. Her honest manner of speech is one of her qualities that he most values. One night, he accepts a dinner invitation from Dr. Battista. At the Battista home, Pyotr hopes that he can find his way into Kate’s good graces. There, he also meets Kate’s younger sister, Bunny. Bunny is a teenager more interested in flirting with Edward—an older boy and neighbor—than anything else.
Eventually, Kate caves and decides that she will marry Pyotr, but Bunny isn’t so fond of the idea. She warns Kate about this relationship because she perceives that Pyotr is trying to direct Kate—and Bunny knows that her sister doesn’t want to be directed by anyone.
Despite Bunny’s warnings that Pyotr is controlling, Bunny pretends to be a vegetarian to please Edward. Edward has been telling Bunny about how animals are treated, as well as the dangers the meat-processing industry presents for humans. In an effort to impress him, she claims she no longer eats meat. The irony
is that while Bunny doesn’t want her older sister to be controlled by Pyotr, she’s basing her own decisions on Edward’s and is therefore indirectly controlled by him.
Pyotr introduces Kate to both Mrs. Murphy and Mrs. Liu. Mrs. Murphy is an elderly woman with whom Pyotr lives, and Mrs. Liu helps Mrs. Murphy. Pyotr also meets more of Kate’s family. Kate’s aunt, Thelma, tries to convince them to have a huge wedding. Kate, however, is reticent and declines, so Thelma agrees to pay for a small party for their union.
When the wedding day comes, Pyotr arrives later than planned. Not only is he tardy for his own wedding, but he arrives angered because the lab mice were stolen, setting his and Dr. Battista’s research back. Nevertheless, he and Kate get married. Once the ceremony ends, Pyotr points his finger at Bunny, claiming she stole the lab mice.
Kate won’t have it and comes to Bunny’s defense. She puts the idea in Pyotr’s head that he’s accusing Bunny prematurely; maybe Edward stole the mice. Pyotr redirects his anger toward Edward and they physically fight. The police come to deal with the altercation and stolen mice. Everyone goes to the wedding reception, where Kate stands by Pyotr’s actions regarding the mice theft.
In addition to Vinegar Girl
, Anne Tyler is known for several other works, including Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
, The Accidental Tourist
, and Breathing Lessons
. In 1983, Tyler became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She’s won a number of awards: the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in 1980, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1985, the Ambassador Book Award for Fiction in 1986, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1989, and The Sunday Times
Award for Literary Excellence in 2012. Breathing Lessons
was named Time Magazine
’s Book of the Year in 1988.