Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, the third novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare Series, is a modern re-imagining of one of Shakespeare’s most controversial comedies, The Taming of the Shrew. Tyler’s retelling is focused on “toning down” the play’s shrews, whom she called “insane” in an interview.
In Vinegar Girl, Kate is a blunt, outspoken college dropout stuck at home with her scientist father, Dr. Louis Battista, and her spoiled younger sister, Bunny, while keeping house for them and working at a pre-school. Dr. Battista devises a plan for a “green card marriage” between Kate and Pyotr, his indispensable Russian assistant, who has to leave the country as soon as his visa expires. Kate eventually accepts the marriage not only because it would save her father and Pyotr, but also because it would offer her a way out from her going-nowhere life and give her the chance for a fresh start.
Pyotr and her ‘vinegar girl’ Kate transform themselves into a happily married couple who love each other for themselves, as the epilogue demonstrates. Tyler’s ‘too-sweet-to-be-true’ adaptation needs no shrews, nor taming, after all.