So what’s the verdict? After such exceptional re-works of the same play as Kiss me Kate and the cult film 10 things I hate about you, did this really need to be retold again? It is hard to read this version without comparing it to the others and I am not sure it outshines them.
All be it, Anne Tyler was born in 1941 but does she really have to write like a 74 year old woman? I don’t know if it’s the use of loud third person narrative, or the old fashioned language used by Kate (done somewhat on purpose I’d say to imply she is a bit prudish and out of touch with those her age), but something about these characters prevents them from feeling current and even real. This book would be completely believable, if it was set in 2005. Though it could easily be set in the 1960s too.
Maybe it’s that Kate uses old school lingo; referring to her dad as “Father” though yes, this is likely on purpose. But believe me, no 29 year old I know would utter the phrase “they’ll get over it by and by.” No one. I don’t actually think I’ve heard anyone say that, ever. Perhaps they did. Before I was born.
But it’s also Bunny’s speech and character that doesn’t add up either. As a 17 year old, she seems to spend far too much time with her face out of a screen to be believable. And, no 17 year old in the last 20 years has ever said: “Your daughter is a meddlesome jerk!” or “Come along Edward”.
n her defence, Tyler does try to incorporate some hip lingo, it’s just that’s its about 20 years old – ‘This family is so lame!” That phase was hip when I was a teen. That was a liiittle while ago now!
She manages to include some aspects of social media into the story - like the occasional cell phone, a slight mention of Facebook - But as far as I’m concerned, it’s too little too late.
She could have had so much fun with this book. She could have used this to make a jibe at the online lives of teens, how they are seldom living in the real world and instead use their phones to communicate with everyone. She could have made Kate’s reluctance to embrace social media – a controversial decision these days – even louder by contrast.
Despite all of this, Vinegar Girl does manage to take hold. Once you get past the minor oddities, tell yourself to stop groaning at the “old lady narrative”, there’s just something about the characters that manages to draw you in. I needed to see this book through to the end. I couldn’t put it down.
As I was reading, I suspected this book would be much like Tyler’s previous title, A spool of Blue Thread; a bit of an onion. Many layers, something draws you in, you keep striving to get to the middle of it, but in the end, there’s nothing really there. Thankfully I was wrong. On the close of the book, one speech makes it all worthwhile. It’s enough to make me forgive Tyler for her dated dialogue and her lack of up to date content:
It’s hard being a man. Have you ever thought of that? Anything that’s bothering them, men think they have to hide it. They think they should seem in charge, in control; they don’t dare share their true feelings. No matter if they are hurting or desperate or stricken with grief. ‘Oh I’m okay’ they say, ‘everything’s just fine.’ They’re a while lot less free than women are when you think about it.
As far as cover design goes, WOW. This one is a winner. I must confess to judging a book by its cover. But when they look this good can you blame me?