While it is fun to imagine writing a modern version of The Taming of the Shrew, there are some cultural differences between the 21st century and the 18th century that offer challenges to an author that may be insurmountable. Not the least is Shakespeare’s title. The actual word, shrew, must have been invented by men. Even Shakespeare’s female contemporaries when speaking among themselves most likely expressed anger at the term or, possibly a tolerant sort of humor (rolled eyeballs) provided the males in their lives were not actually abusive. In our times men in Western cultures who call women shrews had better be ready for some serious pushback.
We see the humor in the situation though – a woman with a sharp tongue is softened by love for a man who uses his wits to defuse her opposition and we believe he will offer her the respect and affection she needs to take off her armor. Since even someone who seems like a scold deserves love, a happy ending is satisfying and offers hope. Kate, however, is not quite enough of a scold in Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler to have the same impact as Shakespeare’s Kate.
Anne Tyler may have had the idea to do this modern novel based on Shakespeare’s play in the back of her mind for many years. It is not a bad read, but not, I think, as strong as most of Tyler’s other novels. It lacks detail and it is not as witty as the acid give and take of the original. The novel seems more like a writer’s outline than a fully fleshed out offering. In this case Vinegar Girl, although interesting conceptually is a bit lacking in the execution. Of course Shakespeare is formidable writer to take on. If you don’t make your expectations impossibly high, you will enjoy the story. Anne Tyler still has skills that have been polished by a long career as a bestselling author.