Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

It was a situation where I felt I had to buy a book before I left the shop and the longer I looked, the less likely I felt I would end up with something I wanted. But all of a sudden I stumbled on this Tyler from 2016, which is apparently part of a series where modern writers are commissioned to do a take on a Shakespeare story. On the one hand, I have read all the books written by Tyler except for the one that won a Women’s Literature prize, which I felt obliged to boycott. On the other, I hate The Taming of the Shrew and I could see no good coming from this.

Yes, I thought to myself grimly after ten pages, just as I suspected. A dud if ever there was one. But actually, sticking to it, I quickly came to like it. Not love. And I think it fades towards the end. But not awful, at any rate. I don’t feel like I should have spent the ten bucks on smashed avo instead. High praise indeed.

At its best this is classic Tyler. The caricature of scientists is well done. The scenes where she is working as a teacher’s assistant with little children are as charming as Tyler gets. Indeed, one is left wondering if it is a happy ending that she marries and becomes a one child family botanist when she could give so much joy to so many children.

I’m really undecided overall with this one. Anybody read it? Please tell me what you think!

6 thoughts on “Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

  1. Greetings, CathyC! I’m glad that you didn’t feel you had wasted your money — a very upsetting feeling that is, as I know all too well from my own bookish mistakes (usually bad fantasy or sci-fi). I read this one shortly after it came out driven by two reasons: I’m a Tyler fan (although there are many of her novels I haven’t read) and I wanted to see what a talented contemporary writer would/could do with this oh-so-troubling play (like you, I hate it). My critical reaction to the book was very similar to yours, except that I liked it more. I’ve forgotten many of the details but as I recall I was particularly pleased with the fate of the “pretty” sister: didn’t she become an unsuccessful aerobics instructor or something? Like you, I did think the novel weakened a bit towards the end but really — what could Tyler do, given her source material? (side note: I once actually paid money to see the play performed, as it’s so very problematical for us modern types. It was played, very, very broadly, for laughs, with lots of slapstick and it worked o.k., at least for me at the time).
    I simply must ask: which Tyler novel did you boycott and why? I did a very, very quick search and couldn’t find that Tyler had actually won the Women’s/Bailey’s whatever-it’s-called award, although she’s been short listed a time or two (ditto for the Booker).
    I mostly read Tyler in the earlier part of her career, which means I’ve missed many of her novels, since she’s so prolific. What’s your favorite? Mine is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.
    Since I’m fond of re-tellings of myths and classics, I’ve always meant to read more of the series containing Vinergar Girl (Hogarth Shakespeare Series). Did you know that one entry has Jo Nesbo retelling Macbeth? Very intriguing. There’s also a Cannongate Myth series which also looks good — Margaret Atwood retells the story of Penelope, that oh-so-patient wife, and Ali Smith retells the story of a transgender mythological character. Of course, I’ve never read either! So many books, etc.

  2. Dear Cathy C: thanks so much for the links! I wasn’t aware of the Thurber, which is, as you so correctly state, very, very funny indeed. I have to run at the present moment, but I’ll be back to check out your A. Tyler review.
    I haven’t read Celestial Navigation; I’ll have to check it out. I did read Spool, my first Tyler for many years. I thought it was good although far from her best. It did remind me that Tyler is a very dependable writer; someone you can always go to when you’re looking for well written novel about human relationships. I really must try to catch up on some of her work (presently have an unread copy of Redhead by the Side of the Road).
    Hope all is going well with you, as we struggle along here in our somewhat united state (“somewhat” depending on which political pundit you’re listening to on a particular day . . . .)

    • Thurber’s misogyny is often misplaced, but this particular story is perfect!

      Chugging along here, being at the end of the world has its advantages right now.

    • I am looking forward to somebody else reading it and forgetting it so totally that after a year they can read it again with no recollection. I want to know it’s not just my dementia 😦

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