No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, July 06, 2018

2018/36: Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew, Retold) -- Anne Tyler

“We are supposed to be the center of his life,” Bunny said. “What is it with him? The man forgets for months at a stretch that we even exist, but at the same time he thinks he has the right to tell us who we can ride in cars with and who we should marry.”
“Whom,” Kate said automatically.
“Wake up and smell the coffee, sis. He’s making a human sacrifice of you, don’t you get it?” [p. 115]
This is a very loose retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. Kate, the unmarried daughter of eccentric scientist Louis Battista, is not especially shrewish: she's just not particularly interested in social niceties. And Pyotr, her father's lab assistant (in need of a 'green card' marriage so he won't have to leave the country when his student visa expires) doesn't have the cruelty of Petruchio. As for Bianca -- here renamed Bunny -- her suitors are reduced to a single swain, Eddie, who lives next door and is a vegan. (He does end up tutoring Bunny.)

As a romantic comedy it works rather better. Kate and Pyotr quickly settle into mutual respect; both are surprisingly stubborn about things that matter to them. Pyotr being Foreign, he has a wealth of unusual proverbs, and a way of looking at the world that is quite new to Kate. Kate's forthright nature, though it has done her few favours in life (she didn't finish her degree, due to informing her professor that his explanation of photosynthesis was 'half-assed': now she's a pre-school assistant), appeals to Pyotr, who struggles with culture clash.

There's some examination of the wedding juggernaut by which Kate finds herself propelled towards marriage: and near the end of the novel more characters appear, some of them providing a more critical perspective on Dr Battista's parenting skills. ("I've always had a very good relationship with my mice," he tells Aunt Thelma, who responds "Well, better with them than with no one".) One can see where Kate gets her lack of interpersonal skills.

I'm interested in transformative works, but this specimen didn't bear much resemblance to the original, and didn't seem to open it up in any meaningful way, other than setting it in present-day America. Or perhaps, given several 'transformative' stagings of Shakespeare's rather nasty play, I've already seen the story transformed more effectively.

No comments:

Post a Comment