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?