Dysfunctional family relationships are Anne Tyler’s forte and her retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” gives her plenty to work with!
In Tyler’s revamping, the shrew is Kate Battista, an abrasive preschool teacher with a bad hairdo and an unapologetic way with “honest” truths. (“I hate small children… They’re not very bright, if you’ve noticed.”) Once a “thorny child” and a “sullen teenager”, Kate is now housekeeper to her scientist father, the controlling and selfish Dr. Battista and her attractive, popular teenage sister, Bunny. When a prestigious research project of Dr. Battista’s is threatened by the imminent deportation of his brilliant Russian lab assistant, Pyotr Cherbakov, he decides to marry Kate off to get the young man a green card. You can imagine how well this goes over with Kate. She is furious, but you find yourself wondering if she will give in to these two characters’ charm.
Tyler gives a simple pre-feminist tale a number of clever tweaks. Shakespeare’s blunt shrew-tamer, Petruchio, is one of his more problematic male characters. In a neat twist, Tyler rewrites his boorishness as foreignness and a lack of finesse with the English langage.. Pyotr seems as much an outsider in polite society as Kate: “In my country we have proverb,” Pyotr was saying. Don’t they always, Kate thought. “We say, ‘Work when it is divided into segments is shorter total period of time than work when it is all together in one unit.” “Catchy,” Kate said.
I have really enjoyed this story. I read “Shrew” so many years ago and this new, sharp interpretation did not disappoint. This novel was written and published through the support of The Hogarth Press and the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, both of which support Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today. You can find “Vinegar Girl” in the fiction section.