Tyler works around the arranged-marriage setup brilliantly ... Tyler’s signature skill as a novelist is portraying her characters and her setting with such precise and amusing detail that pretty soon the reader is drawn in, willy-nilly. We know where this is heading, yet she does a great job putting up the roadblocks and incorporating the surprising curves ... Novels such as Anne Tyler’s, which are so precise and current, are like photographs or digital clock faces that tell us where we are and where we are coming from at the same time. Vinegar Girl is an earthy reflection of this fleeting moment, both lively and thoughtful.
Tyler gives what appears to be a simple pre-feminist fable a number of adroit 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. With his article-less speech and habit of intoning snippets of gnomic Russian wisdom, Pyotr is as much an outsider in polite society as Kate ... Tyler has fun spelling out what Shakespeare implies: that the shrew, despite her lack of conventional feminine appeal, is in fact beautiful, witty and honest, and that only the eccentric Pyotr has the originality to see this ... This sparky, intelligent spin on Shakespeare’s controversial classic demolishes the old saw that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar with a simple question posed by Pyotr.
Tyler manages to end the story on a pontifical note, one that’s troublingly reminiscent of the original play’s sexist sincerity. And, unfortunately, the regressive ideas at work in Vinegar Girl are made clear long before its final pages ... The proverb bit is prevalent throughout the story, painting a reductive picture of Eastern European immigrants, who, in the context of this story, are barely more than comic relief characters. The same goes for teenage girls who gussy themselves up for the sake of male attention — the easiest form of power allowed them — and aging Asian-Americans, who, according to the narrator, are prone to dressing in casual menswear. Throughout the book, stereotypes are embraced rather than questioned, mostly for the sake of easy jokes ... As with Taming of the Shrew, the story can be appreciated if the ideals of its protagonist are unmarried from the ideals of its author, but doing so begs the question: why tell it at all?
Vinegar Girl strays far from The Taming of the Shrew, but its characters are sympathetic and well-drawn, and Tyler's tale captures the spirit of a thoroughly modern marriage. Her unconventional approach to Shrew feels more like a New Age romantic comedy than a Shakespearean production. For that reason, open-minded readers may enjoy it more than purists who prefer their Shakespeare straight up. Vinegar Girl is an entertaining journey into the world of Shakespeare-lite.
Vinegar Girl is funny and endearing, the quirky characters vintage Tyler. She follows the general story line of the play, but she takes plenty of liberties with the details, deftly tweaking Shakespeare’s violence and misogyny ... You might wonder how Tyler handles the sexism of Shakespeare’s play — will the tart-tongued Kate be 'tamed'? No worries. Tyler defines the conflict as one between cultural views of the genders rather than between the genders, and Kate’s speech at the end is not submissive, but defiant.
[Tyler] has tamed the Bard's shrewish battle of the sexes into a far more politically correct screwball comedy of manners that actually channels Jane Austen more than Shakespeare. It's clear that she had fun with Vinegar Girl, and readers will too ... The verbal sparring between Kate and everyone else is charming, though sometimes surprisingly quaint ... Vinegar Girl is a fizzy cocktail of a romantic comedy, far more sweet than acidic, about finding a mate who appreciates you for your idiosyncratic, principled self — no taming necessary.
Tyler had to walk a fine line to make a modern-day version both convincing and palatable. But she has gracefully skirted the perils of Shakespearean sexism while pointing out the limitations that remain ... At times, though, this story feels more like a stage production than a multi-layered novel. Kate's a millennial, but she seems to have no friends, no social media accounts and no age-appropriate hobbies. Pyotr, meanwhile, spends his life in a lab. He's an orphan, but there's little mention of his childhood. One wonders whether Tyler is comfortable casting millennials as main characters. Only when Kate has agreed to the marriage do the characters begin to come alive. Once their fate is sealed, she and Pyotr exhibit a warmth and depth that helps Vinegar Girl stand on its own, even without the Shakespearean context.
An effective retelling, while nodding to the original text, stands on its own as a story in the way Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince responds to Hamlet and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World plays with The Tempest. Tyler succeeds in creating a world we believe in as Kate struggles with work, relaxes in her garden, and endures her eccentric insensitive father and bratty sister.
As with the best stage productions of Shrew, love creates a fundamental equality between the pair at the center of Tyler's novel; critics apt to castigate Shakespeare's play for its supposed sexism repeatedly miss this underlying truth. Tyler misses nothing. Yes: In her best novels about marriage the canvas on which such truths appear is bigger and more textured; in comparison, Vinegar Girl is a bit of a lark. So was Shrew. But this jeu d'esprit embodies all the reasons readers love Anne Tyler: it's fun, lighthearted, clever, compassionate and filled with Tyler's always extraordinary love for her characters, liberating them here to love each other.
Those more familiar with the play will enjoy matching up Tyler’s characters with their original counterparts, but may feel disappointed at the simplicity of the adaptation ... the speech Kate delivers in the book feels somewhat unearned; the issues she addresses aren’t very present in the plot that precedes them. Still, Tyler’s writing is lively and engaging ... Those who want a more radical take on Shakespeare’s problematic play will have to look elsewhere. But those who want a good book to read on the beach this summer will find Vinegar Girl a pleasant and sometimes piquant read.
Tyler seems fairly uninterested in provocation, or in spinning the story forward much. The characters in Vinegar Girl — the latest installation of Hogarth Shakespeare, a series that invites celebrated authors to adapt the dramas — are decidedly of our time, and they're invested, predictably, with warmth and unpretentious humor. Still, Tyler embraces more clichés than she challenges.
From this scenario, Tyler draws gentle humour with mixed results...But even confirmed Tyler fans (and I count myself among them) may find it hard to love Pyotr as much as the book clearly would like us to. The funny foreigner act seems oddly retrograde ... This provocative sally into the gender wars, at least, is in the spirit of Shakespeare’s source material. But for the most part, Tyler’s amiable retelling could do with a dash more vinegar to accompany all those pinches of salt that we are required to take.
It’s a plain, rather adolescent world the Vinegar Girl inhabits, notwithstanding Ms. Tyler’s trademark compelling domestic details and witty asides ... If Kate was 13, her behaviors and lack of awareness would be understandable; at 29, one wonders about her psychological profile ... Rude, disaffected teenaged girls can take inspiration from this tale; everyone else can simply enjoy a simple, well-crafted story.
Vinegar Girl is a gentle diversion, an amiable novel about a young woman’s growing awareness of the truths about her family, her life, and the nature of the men around her. There is no taming here, but a gradual awakening on both parts. Pyotr is a far cry from Petruchio in any interpretation, and the growth of his relationship with Kate is deftly handled and charmingly awkward. The novel’s connection to The Taming of the Shrew may be limited, but Vinegar Girl is a perfect novel for a summer afternoon and a testimony to the malleability of Shakespeare’s text and ideas.