Vinegar Girl

Anne Tyler

PUBLISHED 06.01.2016

READ
09.03.2018 – 09.07.2018

GENRE Fiction

IF YOU LIKED
Hag-Seed

TAGS

"how has this woman survived in the world until now being so unbelievably rude"

It might be surprising but for someone who has an entire tag on their blog devoted to being a killjoy, I actually do not like it! I don’t like the feeling of everyone else liking something and me, a sourpuss, raining on a parade, especially when it’s a trivial one like “sort of disliking a book everyone else seemed to like.” There’s a FOMO to knowing that no matter how hard I try, I will not find a new take to make me enjoy this book (which has happened before!).

I’ve never read The Taming of the Shrew, the play. My exposure to it is mainly a children’s Shakespeare play book that for the life of me I cannot remember, the absolute classic 10 Things I Hate About You, a stellar performance by Shitfaced Shakespeare last year, and other summaries or abridged versions. I know what it’s about, and I’ve never been too interested in reading anything but subversions of the play.

I say this all because I don’t know if this book fell flat to me because of the book or because of the source materials Tyler was using. Katherine annoyed me to no end (from my notes: “how has this woman survived in the world until now being so unbelievably rude”), Bunny seemed to be the only sensible one of the bunch, Pyotr was a non-character that changed his personality as needed, their love story was weak at best, and most crucially, the father was, as my notes say, a “child abusing neglectful asshole. How has CPS never been called on this fuck?” He makes them eat gray slop! He refuses to wear normal clothes! He ignores his teenage daughter for days at a time but still insists on strict discipline. Maybe I am just the professional killjoy but it was tough to get over.

I also found myself frustrated by how non-modern this modern adaptation was. Not so much about things like referring to their father as “Father,” though that definitely makes it feel more stilted and less like a real family in my book, but more in how she didn’t flesh out Katherine too much further than the play! While reading it, and getting frustrated with her, I wrote “In general i think making Kate a real Bitch loses some of the impact of who her character could be. in a modern interpretation [there could be] a really interesting look at how women’s emotions are policed.” There’s a palpable sense of lost potential here which is actually present in some other adaptations (10 Things I Hate About You!!!!!!).

There’s a way to write this story without robbing Katherine of her agency, and more crucially without robbing Katherine of her right to express herself. Part of what makes the play frustrating is this original sin – that a headstrong woman is seen as a harpy by a male writer & therefore her fellow male characters, just because she is willing to speak her mind. In rewriting it, I find it’s a missed opportunity to try to actually tell the story from her point of view, rather than ostensibly doing so but just enforcing the same patriarchal view that Katherine is just unendingly rude and often cruelly so.

None of these are Fatal Flaws, I suppose, but they made the whole thing fall incredibly flat for me. I do understand that adapting famous literature with outdated models of family life or how women and men interact (for example) can be challenging, and according to others Tyler did so with humor (where? Apparently not my kind of humor since I entirely missed it.). I’m happy for those who enjoyed it – I’ve never read Anne Tyler before but the reviews here indicate that she engenders loyalty, which is fantastic. Look, the parade will continue, and I will be the one holding the umbrella by the sidelines, happy to watch everyone march on but slipping out early. Catch you at the next one.